One of the problems that early health care bloggers faced was trying to figure out what was and what was not permissible or ethical in the blogosphere. Since this post is dealing with legal matters, first a quick disclaimer:
The information presented herein represents the views of the author as of the date of publication. The publication is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. While every attempt has been made to verify the information provided in this publication, neither the author nor its affiliates/partners assume any responsibility for errors, inaccuracies or omissions. If advice concerning medical, legal or related matters is needed, the services of a fully qualified professional should be sought. You should be aware of any laws/practices or local policies which govern patient privacy, emergency care or other prehospital care practices in your country and state.
Wasn’t that fun?
The Health Care Blogger Code of Ethics
In May 2007 discussion of the need for an oath or a code evolved into The Healthcare Blogger Code of Ethics. The code has five essential points:
- Perspective – that your readers understand your professional perspective. While we usually argue that this type of classification is usually unnecessary to the public it’s important to identify whether you are you an EMT-Basic, EMT-Intermediate, EMT-Paramedic, Registered Nurse or Medical Doctor for your readers who do understand the differences to know your professional perspective
- Confidentiality – Bloggers must understand and maintain the importance of confidentiality when blogging about patients. All blogging about patients must be done so that their identity cannot be inferred
- Disclosure – Bloggers must disclose any commercial ties that may exist between a company and themselves. You can read more about disclosures here
- Reliability – It is important to cite sources of information accurately and correctly. Additionally it is important to correct inaccuracies where they are discovered
- Courtesy – Attack the idea, not the person. This is a simple directive to maintain a professional demeanor and practice good netiquette. You can read more about the do’s and don’ts of online behaviour here
If patient care stories are going to be part of your blog then I highly recommend adopting the code for yourself and join the community at Healthcare Blogger Code Of Ethics.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
One of the things that differentiate blogs from other media sources is usually their style of story telling. The 5 Ws: Who? What? Where? When? Why?, are still covered in the narrative with a tweak or two. Bloggers will usually alter the Who? and think that they have succesfully complied with HIPAA privacy rules. In this day and age, that just isn’t the case.
Answering the Where?, What?, and When? are often viewed as benign but can also be patient identifiers. One of the most notable recent cases of this is a Georgia firefighter who took a video of a fatal crash that the family then found because it disclosed the date, time, and place answering the Where? and When?. As for answering What?, a paramedic posted an X-ray on Facebook about an injury and revealed a patient’s identity by doing so. Although he did not disclose the patient’s name, the disclosure of the service he worked for (and therefore the area they covered), the date, the time, and the uniqueness of the injury led to the patient being easily identified and the paramedic was terminated for that offense.
Beware of these potential patient identifiers that may commonly be used in a blogging narrative:
- Address of residence
- Location of service
- Date of service
- Time of service
It’s important to remember that information you reveal about yourself although not necessarily on a post by post basis, such as an agency or a location where you work or what particular shift, can be used to unintentionally identify a patient.
Previously: The Disclaimer and Disclosure
Next: Writing Posts For Your Blog