Do physicians-only online networks really have the potential to drastically change the face of healthcare collaboration and education?
Already, websites like sermo.com and ozmosis.com restrict access to licensed medical practitioners to provide a forum for doctors to discuss specific cases. The concern to this Internet lawyer is obvious. Patient privacy. Are doctors violating legal and ethical standards by posting any identifying information about patients? Physician-only websites share many of the same risks as open online services that host “user-generated content.” Once posted, the original author has very little control over how it is disbursed.
Obviously, transfers of sensitive health information from the file cabinets of a doctor’s office to the World Wide Web makes the data highly susceptible to security breaches and unauthorized access and disclosure. Not only do such websites raise ethical obligations governing the doctor/patient relationship, there is potential liability under HIPPA and federal and state privacy laws.
Granted, there are some benefits for physicians to be able to collaborate electronically in the current digital age. However, data security safeguards should be put in place to ensure the protection of personally identifiable information on physician-to-physician websites. This is not something that should be left to self-regulation amongst the medical community.
Social networking has become ubiquitous but even generic/unidentifiable patient information should never be disclosed publicly. These issues, including whether such conduct is tantamount to a HIPPA violation have begun to make their way into our judicial system. In the meantime, let’s use some common sense. Physicians should be required to obtain a patient’s full informed consent before posting any medical information, whatsoever.