Most people who followed health and medical blogosphere last year should well remember the bizarre and incredible story of Dr. Flea.
To summarize and refresh for the rest of us, Flea is a blog name / pseudonym of a Boston pediatrician who live-blogged his own malpractice trial. Plaintiff's lawyers unmasked him, confronted in the courtroom and forced to settle for a significant sum. He stopped blogging and has been silent ever since. Till now.
What can we glean from this story with the benefit of perspective?
Flea, a.k.a. Dr. Robert Lindeman first resurfaced in Canadian National Review of Medicine (NRM), which was doing a piece on medical blogging. At the end of the article a predictable issue of anonymity and risks was brought up. Flea's advice after the ordeal? His quote really speaks for itself:
"No wonder when doctors write, they write namby-pamby noncommittal crap," says Dr Lindeman, "it might get you in trouble someday." His advice? "Don't blog anonymously. For physicians, writing is dangerous. There is something really messed up about that."
Despite the dangers, you can minimize your risk. Don't discuss real patient cases, include a disclaimer to make clear that your writing shouldn't be misconstrued as medical advice, and, suggests a humbled Dr Lindeman, don't write about your trial.
Predictably, a flurry of blogger coverage followed, including several interviews with Dr. Flea, most notably by NRM Canadian Medicine blog and New York Personal Injury Law blog. You can read detailed Q&A for a few remarkable tidbits and here I am only going to try and draw a summary.
Flea's case spotlighted a problem with physician blogging
It is not a secret that a great number of doctor blogging is primarily motivated by job frustrations. There was even a recent back-and-forth highlighting this problem between Health IT Strategist newsletter and Health Management Rx blog. The reasons for such unhappiness come from all the pressures healthcare professionals are facing and they are hard to miss when you read medblogs.
What is problematic is that the confronting these frustrations in the public arena often contradicts the professional image doctors seek to project. Even worse is how easy it is to cross the line of legal jeopardy. Anonymity emboldens people to say things they care about deeply, but do not want to be publicly associated with.
So what is the current and future outcome of Flea's story?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that chilling effect in medical blogosphere is already happening. Quite a few bloggers are not only changing tone and taking down potentially controversial posts, but even stopping the blogging altogether. That said, in my observation, most physicians still view blogging as outlet for ranting rather than a professional activity. This is unfortunate.
If anything I think the state of medical blogging reflects the state of contemporary medicine, which is far from happy.