What doctors can learn from Dave Weigel and Journolist

Dave Weigel was formerly a blogger at the Washington Post who covered conservative politics.

He was ousted from his position after incendiary statements made on Journolist, a left-leaning listserv maintained by the liberal blogger at the Post, Ezra Klein.

Journolist is no more, but there’s fallout from this episode that physicians should be wary about.

Jeffrey Parks first made the connection about a similar, closed community that physicians participate in. Namely, Sermo. Despite the fact that all conversations are kept out of the public eye, there’s always the potential that these conservations can be leaked.

As Dr. Parks notes,

I’ve run cases by strangers on Sermo in real time while trying to decide upon an appropriate treatment plan for a difficult patient and have been aided immeasurably by the advice and comments I’ve received. But there are also posts about the political aspects of medicine and complaints about other specialties and rants about difficult patients and malpractice claims. And not everyone on Sermo chooses to be anonymous.

That’s a great point. Passionate, controversial debate is frequent on Sermo, along with discussion of patient cases. Part of what makes the site so provocative and insightful is the fact that the conversations are shielded from the public.

But there’s no guarantee that will always be the case, as “perhaps a physician-turned-hospital administrator who went looking for dirt on a trouble-making internist, [or] a malpractice attorney who used his brother-in-law’s log-on ID to troll for cases,” are both plausible scenarios.

There is never any anonymity on the web. Doctors should always be careful what they write — even when cloaked behind a pseudonym or behind closed doors on physician-only discussion boards.