- To give the readers of a medical blogger a clear idea of the standards by which the blog is maintained.
- To give bloggers (especially anonymous ones) a clear set of guidelines they can show employers, patients, or other concerned parties as to the nature of the blogging.
- Clear representation of perspective – readers must understand the training and overall perspective of the author of a blog. Certainly bloggers can have opinions on subjects outside of their training, and these opinions may be true, but readers must have a place to look on a blog to get an idea of where this author is coming from. This also encompasses the idea of the distinction between advertisement and content. This does not preclude anonymous blogging, but it asks that even anonymous bloggers share the professional perspective from which they are blogging.
- Confidentiality – Bloggers must respect the nature of the relationship between patient and medical professionals and the clear need for confidentiality. All discussions of patients must be done in a way in which patients’ identity cannot be inferred. A patient’s name can only be revealed in a way that is in keeping with the laws that govern that practice (HIPPA, Informed Consent).
- Commercial Disclosure – the presence or absence of commercial ties of the author must be made clear for the readers. If the author is using their blog to pitch a product, it must be clear that they are doing that. Any ties to device manufacturer and/or pharmaceutical company ties must be clearly stated.
- Reliability of Information – citing sources when appropriate and changing inaccuracies when they are pointed out
- Courtesy – Bloggers should not engage in personal attacks, nor should they allow their commenters to do so. Debate and discussion of ideas is one of the major purposes of blogging. While the ideas people hold should be criticized and even confronted, the overall purpose is a discussion of ideas, not those who hold ideas.
KevinMD gives in elaborate detail the happenings that landed the 2 bloggers in a soup. There are various opinions on the discussion in a follow-up post. The final answer lies in discerning what is private and what is public domain. Sensitive info about the patient is to be held diligently in high regard. Invasion of privacy other than for direct patient care in the medical setting is a crime by itself and should be shunned by all. The legal eagle has become a complex jumbo. A nexus between legal enforcers and any distraught patient is dynamite. Avoid it at all costs!
In developing countries like India, the scenario is slightly different – but things are catching on at a fast pace. We, healthcare bloggers must be on our toes trying to adhere to certain ethical principles. “The Code” at MedBloggerCode is a definitive starting point.