A medical journal says some of its doctors should be careful about sharing their private information online, amid concerns about how it can be used by the government.
The Globe and Mail spoke to doctors, nurses, health care executives and others in the field.
The journal’s editors have published a guide for physicians to help them keep their personal information private online.
But the guide, which is published in a special issue of the journal’s journal Care Medicine, doesn’t recommend talking to doctors about their health.
“The public health implications are enormous,” says Dr. John T. Hsu, chief medical officer for the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
“They’re going to want to know the names and addresses of people in their own medical community.”
The guidelines say that doctors should: not discuss their medical care with anyone, even a patient or their physician.
In the guide’s section on the “Health of Medical Care,” doctors say that sharing personal information should not be done through social media or through e-mail.
Instead, they should use the same “common sense” approach that doctors take when discussing patients and the health of their family, the authors write.
Dr. Robert A. Reiter, a Harvard Medical School professor who has written extensively about the topic, says the guidelines could discourage doctors from talking to their patients about their medical conditions.
For example, if a patient has diabetes, they might be able to get a prescription from their physician, but if they are also taking insulin, it’s a different story.
There is no medical consensus on the best way to do this, he says.
And he thinks some doctors might be hesitant to share their own personal information because of the health risks of sharing their patients’ personal information.
“I don’t think doctors have to feel bad that they have to protect their patients from the government,” he says, “but I don’t feel good that they are being given a false sense of security.”
For many, Dr. Hsi says, sharing personal health information about patients can have health risks.
“For the first time in human history, we are going to have to start thinking about what information we share with our friends, our family members and the general public,” he said.
“What do we want to protect?”
Dr Hsu says some doctors feel pressured to share information.
“There is a certain sense of entitlement in sharing a patient’s medical information and being able to control the information you have shared,” he adds.
Hsu says there is also a fear that patients won’t trust their doctors to help with their medical problems, especially in a time when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that more than 200,000 people die from the illness each year from it.
“This fear is understandable because you’re trying to save lives,” he explained.
“But this also has to do with the fact that we are the first generation to have this disease.”
Some doctors worry that sharing information about their own patients could jeopardize the lives of their patients.
“The idea that a doctor could have the personal information of a patient and have the power to tell them, ‘No, no, no,’ or ‘Go to a hospital and get your medications,’ I just don’t buy that,” Dr. Reitter said.
One way to address that is to give patients the choice to decide how much information to share with others, he adds, saying that doctors can use their medical judgment about how much data to share to make that decision.
Dr. Reinter said the guidelines also provide a chance to educate the public on the importance of sharing personal medical information.
He said the guide offers guidance to doctors to “avoid using information that you don’t want people to see.”
But Dr. T. Scott Fennell, an associate professor of medicine at the University at Albany, New York, says he thinks the guidelines are a good first step, but more needs to be done.
“When I was teaching in the 1960s, physicians were not allowed to share patient information,” he recalls.
“The idea of the physician sharing their own information was not a good idea.”
“When you’re a physician, you’re not a medical professional,” he added.
“You’re not supposed to be able give that information to a patient.
You have to be a physician.”
Dr. Fennella says that doctors are already making decisions about how to handle information about them, such as when to use antibiotics.
“And it is very hard to tell a doctor not to take medication for their own reasons,” he notes.
“I think there is a need for greater transparency about how physicians and patients can work together to protect our health.”