Have medical license, will blog.
August 26, 2008 8:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm a doctor in private practice. I love to blog, just not about medicine. I like to do more personal writing, post photos and links, creative projects, write about recent trips, my city, etc (i.e. nothing political, offensive). How would you feel if you found your doctor's personal blog?

I've written a blog like this in the past anonymously, but I feel that readers couldn't connect to me. Also, I feel that there is some ego involved in blogging. If my blog was completely anonymous, no one would know it was my work. Why bother putting it on a website? Why not just have a private online journal?

So, I'd like to have my about page actually have my name on it, but want to know what repercussions this might have. My concern is that my patients (or colleagues) will find it easily with a search on my name, especially since my practice has a website. If I were a designer, having people find my personal blog might be considered a good thing. But would it be too much information for prospective and current patients? Does any professional in the non-online world have a personal blog (e.g. lawyers, doctors, etc.)?

Would it make me look unprofessional to, you know, have a life outside of my job?
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The only way it would taint my view of my doctor was if he/she expressed strident religious or political views. I'd wonder if it would affect my care (say, the doctor was outspoken against birth control, or he was a Mormon who had told me not to drink). I could care less about my doctor's skiing photos or poetry. I'd find it a tad stalkerish to read it if I were your patient and if I found your site I'd probably just pass it by. You might get patients who were made uncomfortable by stumbling on your blog but not say anything because they don't want you to know they googled you. People are strange.
posted by desjardins at 8:26 AM on August 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think it would make you seem human.

Just never, never even hint at writing about a patient. But you seem to know your boundaries.
posted by jschu at 8:26 AM on August 26, 2008

Actually, I think it would be a good thing for your patients to see. I know next to nothing about my current doctor as a person, which makes visits more strained, cold, antiseptic than they would be if I knew more about him. In the past I have had several doctors who were personal friends as well, and always felt very good about my medical experiences with them. Blogging about your personal life will approximate that by making you more accessible to your patients. You might have to put up with more extraneous conversation during office visits, however. ("Gee doc, I didn't know you were into bungee-jumping!")

In fact, I would suggest including a link to your blog on your professional home page, and on any informational materials you give patients about yourself, and encourage them to have a look. Giving out your email address for patients to ask routine questions is a good idea, as well.
posted by beagle at 8:27 AM on August 26, 2008

You may want to check out the blog 6YearMed. It's a bit different from what you're talking about, insofar that she talks more about work itself -- but she does a good job at keeping most identifying details vague (I know her first name, her face, the fact that she works in pediatrics, and the fact that she has a cat named Phoebe, but other than that, I couldn't tell you anything about her private life. Not that she doesn't talk about it -- she just does a good job of keeping things hidden.

And that really is going to be the best way to do this -- keep your name hidden. Or your last name. You can still talk about "you" without disclosing your name, and people can still approach "you" without your disclosing your real name.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:27 AM on August 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

I don't think it would look unprofessional, but I would be weary of posting personal information about myself, including pictures. I wouldn't want my patients knowing too much about me. I just think that it might give your patients a little too much liberty in thinking that they know you and assume that you're all buddies because they saw your pictures from Mexico and you wrote a beautiful piece about your shih tzu.

I wouldn't be worried too much about colleagues. You all have lives outside of your career and blogging is a great creative outlet. They probably do it too.
posted by Sassyfras at 8:27 AM on August 26, 2008

I once googled a doctor and found out that he was very active in a pretty conservative Protestant church, and that did give me pause a little bit. (And then I reflected on the fact that it was my own damn fault for using google to find his phone number rather than looking in the phone book.) I think that would be my only concern: that you might inadvertently reveal a detail that would make patients feel that you were judging them or that they shouldn't reveal pertinent medical information to you. But other than that, I kind of like knowing that my doctors are human. I don't think it hurts you to have your patients think of you as a person with hobbies and interests and a life.
posted by craichead at 8:38 AM on August 26, 2008

Given your professional situation, I'd probably keep a lid on anything TMI. But if it's a subject you could talk about at a cocktail party or with a patient (if you had time to chat about vacations with your patient), then I wouldn't have a problem with it. I probably wouldn't read it regularly just because you were my doctor, but if I happened across it, I wouldn't be bothered.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:40 AM on August 26, 2008

I think I'd greatly enjoy coming across a blog of my doctor. But as is, he's a fairly interesting fellow to talk to. So long as he wasn't blogging about secretly planning to kill the whities in his practice, or something similarly extreme it wouldn't effect my opinion of him. Unlike beagle's doctor, I know at least a bit about him as a person - on signing up with his practice, he scheduled a 15-30 minute appointment with everyone to get a quick history and some discussion. With Ms. nobeagle and myself sharing notes, he definitely seems a likable person instead of just a doctor. He's also the first doctor I've known who's shared any non-doctor details about him/herself.

However, this is coming from a relatively open minded person - some people might suddenly see you as less credible, or alternately, you might deal with many people who find that you aren't right/left/center enough politically, or you're not of the right religion, etc and they might move on. I.E. if it's connected to your name and you hope to not lose patients it will need to be pretty vanilla. Mention abortion and be prepared to lose half of your reading patients ;) Also, some people might not want to see their doctor as human ?

I'll also note that the first thing we did when we heard of a new doctor's practice opening up was to google him - from there we found where he'd attended medical school/country of origin, but nothing personal was available. We certainly would have checked out a personal blog if we found one connected to his name.

Last note is Ms. nobeagle's previous doctor had moved to her city from a different one because he had a case of domestic abuse with his to-be-ex-wife that was in his local papers. She found out about that after he was her doctor, but she still went to him for about 3+ years until we moved. He seemed to be a sane/competent enough as a doctor even if there was the glaring personal blemish. But this is in ontario, where it can take some concentrated time on the phone to find a doctor accepting new patients.
posted by nobeagle at 8:49 AM on August 26, 2008

I would also make it clear that any opinions are yours alone. Some high profile bloggers have stopped because people were confusing them with the company they worked for. Sometimes even using their blog posts in print, then identifying them with their company.

Fire up the blog already!
posted by cjorgensen at 8:56 AM on August 26, 2008

The only two things I can think of which I would care about if I found my doctor's blog are if he or she was (1) posting stories from his or her practice, this would be hugely inappropriate to me, or (2) if the writing on the site was particularly poor. I don't mean that it needs to be Pulitzer material, but if it reads like a teenager's myspace then I'm getting a new doctor.

Based on what you said (and how you said it) I would have no problem at all finding your site, if you were my doctor.
posted by paisley henosis at 9:01 AM on August 26, 2008

Honestly, many aspects of the medical profession are quite conservative. I would fear not that patients would find it unprofessional (they'd likely love knowing that their doc has a life) but that colleagues would find it unprofessional or suspect.

Why not just use some sort of pseudonym that is somehow referential, with corresponding nicknames for family, etc? It doesn't have to be a secret, but I think that using your real first and last name both asking for judgment and depriving you of an opportunity to be clever.
posted by desuetude at 9:02 AM on August 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

I can't put my finger on why I feel this way, but I don't think I would want to come across my personal physician's personal blog. There needs to be some sort of separation there, for me to feel comfortable.
I would never want to stifle your creativity nor any avenue of expression, but I would recommend perhaps using a pseudonym.
posted by willmize at 9:42 AM on August 26, 2008

I'm a doctor, with a long-standing blog and my solution to this problem was to expunge my surname from the blog entirely.

My blog used to be the number one google result for my name, and before facebook, old acquauintances kept finding me through it. I got uncomfortable with the idea that patients and colleagues would google me and find either a) anything over-confessional/over-sharing/TMI or b) NSFW linkage.

Having unpublished my surname, the blog now appears way down the google results. I'm sure a persistent patient/colleague with some google-fu could find my blog, either through flickr or facebook or maybe metafilter, but I feel more comfortable that it isn't the first thing they'd find. Not having my surname there doesn't detract at all. Friends and acquaintances know where to find it anyway, and strangers just know me by my first name.
posted by roofus at 9:42 AM on August 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think it can be very well done, as in Surgeon's Blog.
posted by vodkaboots at 9:55 AM on August 26, 2008

As a data point, here is a pediatrician in Austin on Twitter. Not saying I approve or disapprove, but there you have it.
posted by mattbucher at 9:57 AM on August 26, 2008

I have a friend who is a psychiatrist. She once told me - only partly in jest - that one of the hazards of the job is that, after a while of living in a city, you become known to an awful lot of nut cases. Personally I would like it if I came across a blog written by my doctor - but if I was the patient who you were most glad to see the back of would you be glad to come across me on your reader's list?
posted by rongorongo at 10:07 AM on August 26, 2008

Not sure which way I lean as a patient, but I think that this decision is not binary. As Roofus pointed out, once you go with it, it will be next to impossible to take it back. I would try incremental steps. Use your first name. Then add more identifying items when as or if you become comfortable. Or, what about calling yourself the husband of [insert wife's name here]?

I did find out that some good friends of ours went on a vacation tour and in that tour was my doctor. I found out way more about him (and his wife) than I wanted to know, although I did not change doctors. He is still a good professional surgeon and that is what I judge him by. I think if I was already a patient it would not be an issue, but if I was a potential patient trying to decide, it would bother me. It is sort of the way a child views their teacher. I just assumed she was a teacher all the time with no outside life. The first time I saw Mrs. Locklin in the grocery store, was sort of mind boggling and disturbing to this 10 year old.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:33 AM on August 26, 2008

In general, I think I come down on the side of blog w/pseudonym - don't hide the blog but don't make it THIS IS MY BLOG!!!! either.

I'm not sure if most people feel this way, but I think of it as easier to tell my doctor my "secrets" or talk about uncomfortable things because he's not a friend and I don't know much about him (although I find him very interesting and always enjoy seeing him).

If I were choosing a new doctor, and all other things were equal, I would go with the doctor who either didn't have a blog or had one that wasn't easily Googleable.

I am relatively young and hip (honest!!), but I want my doctor to be kind of non-hip. I know that is really wrong, and I feel guilty, but I want you to have the benefit of all viewpoints, and I can't be the only person secretly thinking that.
posted by KAS at 10:43 AM on August 26, 2008

I think I would be fine with it assuming you stayed clear of patient talk. It might even be good to stay clear of all office talk. My pet peeve is when I get correspondence or see personal writing of people I deal with in a professional capacity and it's littered with spelling errors, swears and a careless attitude.
posted by Bunglegirl at 11:00 AM on August 26, 2008

When I was looking for a Gastroenterologist, I googled those that were in my plan near me. When I started doing research into the doctor closest to me, I found his personal blog devoted to a yearly pig roast he held. This gave me pause for a couple of reasons: 1. I'm vegetarian, in part because of 2. I have a history of colon cancer in my family (hence the need for a Gastroenterologist) and meat has been linked to the disease.

In the end, convenience and familiarity trumped whatever vague conclusions I might be able to draw from his blog. I had trouble seeing how his personal life would come to bear on the type of treatment I might receive.

I'd even go as far as saying that actually knowing more about you, even if it's not directly positive, will be in your favor. Choosing a doctor can be such a difficult, information-starved decision, that anything that allows a potential patient to see you as more than just a name in a list will tip in your favor.
posted by funkiwan at 11:19 AM on August 26, 2008

I think that it would be fantastic, honestly. I'm looking for a new doctor right now and trying to research, and while I've found a few sites that have doctor reviews or the like, I'd like to know something more about my doctor than what I can glean from half a dozen misspelled, all-caps reviews. It's not like I want to stalk him or anything, but I'd like to know that--I don't know, that he's a person too. It's weirdly reassuring to me.
posted by meghanmiller at 11:28 AM on August 26, 2008

One option to consider in lieu of a pseudonym is directly addressing patients that find your blog. "I'm a doctor. If you are my patient, please read this." And link to your explanations and assurances. rongorongo does point out one downside to this; the possibility of engendering a more personal relationship with your patients (or a patient) than you'd prefer.
posted by carsonb at 12:03 PM on August 26, 2008

I think it would make you seem human.

I agree with jschu there, which I think would be a negative for some people because they want doctors to be superhuman and infallible authority figures. A friend of mine who is a priest observed to me that priests are regarded similarly (or at least, that they represent something more than a mere person to many people who interact with them.)

However, I think you're perfectly within your rights to blog with abandon. I like carsonb's suggestion to directly address any patients of yours who may come across it, if you were to not use a pseudonym.

Like nobeagle and funkiwan, when I've been looking for a doctor during the past decade or so the first thing I generally do is grab the list of local in-network names from my insurance company's web site and Google each of them.
posted by XMLicious at 12:48 PM on August 26, 2008

Blog away!

With the advent of the all-knowing, all-seeing search engine and the growing ubiquity of social networking, the blurring of private and professional personas has already begun. I'm comfortable with that, and I think it's a good thing in general. Within a few years, everyone will be used to knowing what their neurosurgeon's top ten favorite lolcats are. Then again, I'm friends with my ob/gyn on Facebook, so my comfort level with internet enforced non-anonymity may be higher than most.
posted by Wavelet at 1:14 PM on August 26, 2008

I would love to read my doctor's blog, if only because I think he's interesting and a good doctor and it would be fascinating to know what makes him tick. Seriously -- best doctor I've ever had, respectful, open, accommodating, thorough. Although I'd probably run screaming in the other direction if he, say, started blogging about using animals for test subjects in his research or something, as long as you don't write about anything toooooo controversial, you should be ok.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:26 PM on August 26, 2008

I doctor, I blog, although I don't do either particularly well. No one at work including patients know I blog although a small amount of sleuthing/following the links could lead from my blog to my name and I haven't gone to the trouble of closing that hole.

I guess the question is, what kind of relationship do you have with your patients? Are you the small town doctor that everyone sees at the grocery store and knows anyway or are you an anonymous doctor in a huge medical building in a large city? Personally, I am more towards the anonymous and professional end of the spectrum but there are some doctors in my practice that have been over to patients' houses for dinner. How much are you willing to open up to your patients? How much do you want them to know about your life?

I would look at your blog as an extension of your personal life. I generally avoid shopping or going out in the town I practice in because running into patients outside of the clinic setting makes me very uncomfortable. My patient population is generally pretty conservative and Jesus-y and I worry how it would affect my practice if they knew I was a liberal Satan worshipper.

The other thing is that I wanted to be able to complain about specific things in the practice and occasionally refer to clinical encounters something that should be done with great care if anonymous and probably not at all if anyone's name is attached to anything.

So I guess to answer your question, I would say no, it's not unprofessional. Some patients might like it and depending on what you write, some patients might be put off. But as long as you've considered these questions about your own privacy and you are not writing too specifically about any privileged information, it's fine.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:41 PM on August 26, 2008

I'd say it depends on what your attitude is already. If you're a very calm, slow-talking, mellow person with patients and you're posting about how you kicked ass in the rugby game over the weekend, that'd be a little bit strange, and I'd feel a little uncomfortable in person after having read it. On the other hand, I'm fully expecting to come across my doctor's blog detailing his exploits on the dirtbike course and how he flew 20 feet in the air, through a barbed-wire fence and into a blackberry bush and then got smashed at the party that night, because, well, that's how I picture him in his spare time.
posted by devilsbrigade at 2:05 PM on August 26, 2008

I look to see what my doctors have published. Similarly I investigated a new potential specialist for my girlfriend, and discovered in the process, a blog by said doctor. I teased her because he looked sort of Ivy League, but the blog didn't affect what I thought about him as a medical professional, and as far as I know it didn't affect my girlfriend's opinion of him professionally.

On the whole, I doubt enough people will stumble across your blog to make a serious difference in your business one way or another.

As far as what your colleagues think, that's a different matter. I know that a personal blog might make a serious difference about how I felt about coworkers, as opposed to professionals that I see once a month or less.

The important suggestions about how and what to write about have already been covered, in my opinion. Good advice upthread if you want to go ahead and do this.
posted by tejolote at 3:31 PM on August 26, 2008

With doctors high on the list of occupations targeted by erotomaniacs, I'd think twice about putting out personal information that might make an unhinged patient feel closer to you, or more able to locate you or your loved ones in your non working lives.
posted by Scram at 5:51 PM on August 26, 2008

I don't think there should be any repercussions at all. If there is no offensive or controversial content (political, religious.. anything that could ostensibly make a person uncomfortable) or 'too much information' situations, I don't see any reason to blog anonymously. Of course, blogging professionals should not post anything that would cause potential clients or patients to consider them untrustworthy or question their ethics, but the sort of blog you're suggesting sounds like it would actually be an asset. I imagine it would make you seem more human, which will put patients at ease. It might even spark more interesting small talk. If you're comfortable with it, I agree with beagle who suggests that you put a link to your blog on your professional website.
posted by Mael Oui at 9:39 PM on August 26, 2008

That you have a life outside your career is cool.

If you decide to open a personal blog, I'd encourage you to not let it be a self-congratulatory 'Hey lookit me I can balance plates on my head whilst playing the thumb piano and reciting A Tale of Two Cities in the first seven of twelve languages I speak fluently' ego-jerk, no matter what your hobbies or interests or background or whatever whatever. Nobody likes that person. Don't be that person.

I'd love to find the personal/hobby URLs of one of my docs because a) I share his interest, b)he's genuinely delighted in pursuing his interest, and k) he's not a grand stander.

I know the web addy of another doctor's hobby site. I tried to like it (the site, the hobby) but finally just had to stop visiting because he's kind of aggressive about reminding visitors just how amazingly fabulous he is.

Physician, web thyself. Good luck.
posted by mcbeth at 10:53 PM on August 26, 2008

I wouldn't have a problem with it.

How will you feel when a patient says, "I saw X on your blog! Cool/not cool/WTF?" Your reaction to that question might need to be a consideration.
posted by cooker girl at 7:14 AM on August 27, 2008

Related - the tale of Flea.
posted by cashman at 12:23 PM on August 27, 2008

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