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medical blogs not protecting the patient

Physicians and nurses who maintain blogs are not taking sufficient measures to protect the identity of the patients about whom they write, according to a study published last week in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, the Los Angeles Times reports. For the 2006 study, author Tara Lagu — a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar and an internal medicine specialist — examined 271 blogs that were maintained by physicians or nurses.

The study found that about 65% of the blogs are written anonymously. The remainder included identifying names of their authors. About 45 blogs, or 17%, “included sufficient information for patients to identify their doctors or themselves,” the study said. About 42% of the blogs contained accounts of private interactions with patients and three blogs displayed photographic images of patients that easily made them recognizable. Despite only a few blogs including conflict of interest disclosures, 11.4% of the blogs contained postings that promoted specific pharmaceutical or medical device products.

According to the Times, some of the physicians and nurses use their blogs “to blow off steam and share their experiences in a profession that most agree has become more trying in recent years,” while others use their blogs to share interesting information, such as medical studies. Lagu said that at least half of the blogs discuss health care policy and other politics-related issues. A few also use blogs as educational tools.

Lagu said that as blogs increasingly become a way for medical personnel to discuss their work and share their frustrations, privacy has become an issue. “It’s time for us to take some responsibility and really think of how we can maintain the integrity of this process,” she said

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