Hiding in plain sight

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) two psychiatrists warn their fellow clinicians that patients may be searching online for professional and personal information about them. To deal with it, the authors cite several steps that would be familiar to anyone who’s dealt with “Googlestalkers”:

  • Have your own website with basic (non-titillating) information
  • Do online searches for yourself to keep track of what’s out there
  • Pursue websites where there is libelous information
  • Use privacy settings on social networking sites
  • Discuss the issue with patients if you think they are after you

Younger docs faces the same challenges as other young professionals: their Facebook and MySpace pages can become a workplace liability. Older docs don’t even realize information about themselves is on the web.

I’m certainly conscious of this issue personally. I try to write interesting, provocative things on the blog without alienating potential readers (who could be consulting clients or business partners for example). One principle I follow is to limit disclosure of personal information that isn’t otherwise available.

I always advise doctors against blogging anonymously. Even if they’re careful in what they write it’s still too easy to figure out their identity over the course of multiple posts.
Another good idea is to assume that anything you do online (especially anything on Google) may eventually become public. Even if Google doesn’t release the information a hacker or a government agency may someday get ahold of it. That’s a frightening concept but it’s reality.

I’d also suggest that doctors consider a search engine optimization strategy to bring positive information to the top. Most people won’t look beyond the first page of Google results. Buying AdWords is also a decent idea for people who become somewhat notorious.

Ironically one of the few remaining ways for doctors to stay relatively anonymous is to publish in leading journals like JAMA, which are still stingy about what they put on the web. The article in question is a good example. If you don’t have a subscription to JAMA you’ll only be able to read the first 150 words!

July 9, 2008

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