For all the complaints about not having enough time to see patients or keep up with the latest innovations, some docs do manage to blog an awful lot. And that may be causing a problem - some authors may be unwittingly revealing confidential patient info, according to a new study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
The study, which was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, examined 271 blogs and found that, while overt violations were rare, 45 blogs, or 16.6 percent, included sufficient info for patients to identify their doctors or themselves. Individual patients were described in 114, or 42.1 percent of the blogs. Patients were portrayed positively in 43 blogs, or 15.9 percent, and negatively in 48 blogs, or 17.7 percent. And three blogs showed recognizable photographic patient images. Here is the study.
They cite an example in which the anonymous blogger "Flea” revealed details of a patient’s death after a malpractice case was brought against him. The lawyer for the plaintiffs recognized the description of the case, and shortly thereafter, the case was settled out of court and the author removed his blog from the Internet. (You can read about that here).
"The blogging community has made an effort to set standards for medical bloggers, but unfortunately, professional organizations and medical educators haven't come out with rules for handling the new medium," lead author Tara Lagu of the University of Pennsylvania tells Pharmalot. "Medical blogs are a great opportunity to learn about the health care system, but they need to know some bloggers have unprofessional conduct, although that doesn't represent the medical profession as a whole. The issue is the risk of losing patient trust. We want to maintain that."
Another interesting finding - healthcare products were promoted, either by images or descriptions, in 31, or 11.4 percent of the blogs. The products included prescription drugs, medical devices and nutritional supplements. She notes that a recent poll found 29 percent of bloggers have been approached by a public relations professional to endorse a product, and of those, 52 percent had written a post endorsing the products on their blogs. Meanwhile, the study found there were no disclosures indicating author conflicts of interest info.
"I don't know if its public relations firms or companies directly contacting bloggers, but there are promotions and we looked for conflict of interest statements and didn't find any. And that's the most disturbing thing for us," Lagu contines. "By standards of the profession, you should have to disclose conflicts when giving a talk or writing a paper. When you have an ad on the side of your blog, people know it's an ad. But when you write in the text about a product, people don't know.
But what about simply mentioning or reviewing a product? "Sometimes, it sounded very much like an endorsement. Other cases, it was difficult to know. And that's part of our point. If there was mention in the text that was going on and on about the merits of the product, it could almost sound like a pitch. So we would count that."