When young Toronto doc Norm Furtado
got home after a recent overnight on-call shift, the
first thing he did was fire up his computer and log
on to his blog. "It was a quiet night," he typed, "but
the first order of business was to pronounce a patient
who had died shortly after 5:00pm. It was my first time
pronouncing and completing a death certificate."
He clicked "publish" and his latest
entry immediately appeared online on his blog Fabulous,
STAT!, located at gaymedstudent.blogspot.com (he's now
Dr Furtado is among the vanguard
of Canadian physicians who have embraced the concept
of blogging, an increasingly popular form of online
journal-keeping that amounts, essentially, to keeping
a public diary. (See the box for a list of Canadian
doctors who blog.)
Over the past year, more and more
Canadian doctors have joined the so-called blogosphere.
Should you follow suit?
Blogging not only offers physicians a chance to share
their thoughts with the public, their patients and their
colleagues, but also to do some self-reflection on the
meaning of their work.
The process can be cathartic, says
Dr Furtado. "It's usually about an experience that I've
had," he says of his two-year-old blog, "It's sort of
a post hoc analysis of the experience. That's where
the therapeutic nature of it comes in."
Besides the chance to get something
off their chests, many doctors embrace the chance to
loosen up, speak their minds and show off a bit of creativity.
"I mainly blog because I like to write," says Dr Aaron
Johnston. He co-writes the blog Adventures in Medicine
with his physician wife Julia about their experiences
working in Iqaluit. "I'd forgotten that somewhere along
Dr Johnston's blog covers topics
as varied as the spread of tuberculosis in the Canadian
Arctic, the couple's recent vacation in Jamaica and
watching Premier Paul Okalik dance the night away at
a charity ball. "These days, doctors are encouraged
to be researchers as much as clinicians. While that
has many positive aspects, scientific writing is pretty
dry," says Dr Johnston "For anyone who enjoys creative
writing and playing with language, blogging is a great
There are three broad categories of physicians' blogs,
according to a 2006 report by New York-based healthcare
consulting firm Envision Solutions: the diary blog,
the news blog and the medical treatment blog.
Dr Furtado's and Dr Johnston's
blogs fall, for the most part, into the diary category.
Dr Arya Sharma, the medical director
of the Edmonton-based Weight Wise weight-loss program,
maintains a medical treatment blog at ch-weightwisemd.blogspot.com,
where he describes clinical matters related to weight
loss, exercise and bariatric surgery.
The Executive Physician (executivephysician.blogspot.com)
is a relatively new but already popular news blog, written
anonymously by a Canadian physician who's now practising
in the US. The author scans the headlines for articles
about health policy in the two countries and offers
up a no-holds-barred analysis, from a doctor's perspective,
on issues like billing fraud, health insurance and the
The top medical news blog, KevinMD.com,
is published by Dr Kevin Pho, a New Hampshire GP. "I
think it's important to hear a doctor's voice," he says.
"Our opinions and perspectives often get lost in mainstream
reports on health."
One of the big advantages to blogging as a method of
online publishing is its simplicity. You can set up
and run a blog for free with services like Blogger.com
or Wordpress.org, even if your knowledge of the internet
extends only slightly beyond that of George W Bush,
whose malapropisms "the internets" and "the Google"
are destined to live on in infamy.
There are a number of useful physician-specific
resources available free online. Some bloggers have
even put together a Healthcare Blogger Code of Ethics.
Several dozen physicians have agreed to adhere to it.
The biggest question you must ask
yourself if you're considering blogging, however, is
a very simple one: should you use your real name or
It may be tempting to blog anonymously
no hospital admins breathing down your neck about
your latest post, and no patients asking you medical
advice in the "comments" section of your blog
but it's generally inadvisable. Dr Robert Lindeman,
a pediatrician from Massachusetts, found that out the
hard way. The really hard way.
Blogging under the pseudonym "Flea,"
Dr Lindeman had been writing about a malpractice suit
brought against him in Boston over the diabetic ketoacidosis
death of a 12-year-old patient. On his blog, he revealed
the defence strategy and made jokes about the jurors.
Unexpectedly, during cross-examination, the prosecutor
asked Dr Lindeman if he was "Flea." The case was lost,
his lawyers realized immediately. They settled the next
"No wonder when doctors write,
they write namby-pamby noncommittal crap," says Dr Lindeman,
"it might get you in trouble someday." His advice? "Don't
blog anonymously. For physicians, writing is dangerous.
There is something really messed up about that."
Despite the dangers, you can minimize
your risk. Don't discuss real patient cases, include
a disclaimer to make clear that your writing shouldn't
be misconstrued as medical advice, and, suggests a humbled
Dr Lindeman, don't write about your trial.
Check out NRM's news
blog Canadian Medicine, online at canadianmedicine.blogspot.com.