Friday, August 15, 2008

Are Standards of Conduct Needed for Physician Weblogs?

By Randy Hendrickson

Pharmalot recently reported a study (“Content of Weblogs Written by Health Professionals” by Tara Lagu et al) that shows that there are serious ethical problems associated with physician weblogs. Although weblogs have emerged as a vital new way to share experiences and provide a connection between health professionals and the public, they do not have the same standards of conduct as medical books, peer-reviewed journals, presentations at medical conferences, and other more traditional forms of medical communication.

Patient Privacy

Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, this study found that a total of:

  • 16.6% (45/271) of physician blogs contained information that allowed patients to identify either themselves or their doctor

  • 42.1% (114/271) of the blogs described individual patients

  • 15.9% (43/271) portrayed patients positively

  • 17.7% (48/271) portrayed patients negatively

  • 2.9% (8/271) showed patient radiographs with no other identifiable information

  • 1.1% (3/271) of the blogs showed recognizable pictures of the patients

Product Endorsement

Explicit product promotions appeared in a total of 11.4% (31/271) of physician weblogs; however, none of the authors provided conflict of interest information, which is the rule for any legitimate form of medical publishing. Additionally, 29% of bloggers have been approached by public relations firms to endorse a product, and of those, 52% actually wrote a post endorsing that product. Lagu explains that “these endorsements are not advertisements that appear on the website; they are written into the blog narrative, often without any acknowledgment that they are paid promotions.”

According to Lagu, “the ease of use of medical weblogs disconnects blog content from the editorial process common to books, journals, and conventional broadcasts. For the most part, blog authors have few incentives to maintain their credibility and integrity or, in contrast, to compromise it for the sake of ratings or sales.” Most medical literature is subject to peer review; however, weblogs can be written by anyone with an internet connection, regardless of their qualifications.

Although the content of some weblogs shows a lack of respect for the physician-patient relationship, patient confidentiality, and appropriate management of conflict of interest, there has been no formal response from the medical community about the need for standards of conduct for weblog content.

The results of this study show that this new means of medical communication is only going to expand in the future. It is critical that “[p]hysician-leaders and medical educators consider curricular development and educational forums that address the challenges, opportunities, and responsibilities that medical blog authors face, and the place for this new medium with norms of the medical profession.”


Habladora said...

Great post, and something all bloggers need to think about - especially those in expert fields like medicine. Since I have a couple of medical researchers and MDs writing on my blog, I'll send them over here to read your excellent piece. I believe that it won't be long before "Ethics of Blogging" seminars become common for medical students and law students alike.

Alanna said...

I think a lot of bloggers - not just medical bloggers - need to realize that a blog might feel like a safe and private place to share feelings and thoughts, but they are not. In fact, they're the opposite, public platforms that display themselves and their profession in a magnified way.

Anonymous said...


I'm Alisha from Wowzio, and I'm excited to tell you about our new widget platform that helps bloggers increase readership by providing engaging widgets containing your blog's rich content. You can check out widgets customized for your blog here:

Wowzio Widgets for your Blog

I wanted to reach out to you to ask for your feedback on these widgets (feel free to install them on your blog, if you feel they are a good fit). I'm sorry for leaving this message via a comment, it's not at all our intent to spam you ( which is why i'm leaving this comment on an older post and you can always remove this comment ). Again, we would love to hear your feedback.

Alisha Wright

Amay said...

This blog is really fantastic as I have gone through all the posts. I don't know why the blog mater is not interested in posting some more relative information. I request the blog mater to add some more content to this great blog. I shall link from my blogs to this blog soon. 
Regarding complete cure of HIV I was simply wondering why can't we find some thing useful in this direction. Since HIV and its treatment is an important issue or information we need more specific information on this subject. I have found a nice informative guide on HIV from following URL .
 This guide deals with How To Cure HIV Through herbal medicines and Holistic Treatment. Guide claims that HIV viruses can't be killed but they can be ousted out of the body cells using bio magnetic repulsion or something written. You can verify the guide by downloading that for free. for this site. I dreamt of a HIV free world after reading this guide. 
Hope that you will add more free information to the comment boxes to let other people read about this interesting subjects. 
God bless you all-