Thursday, September 24, 2009

Med students Twittering secrets

By Sheilah Downey

"Don't be deceived by the sense of anonymity the Internet fosters," cautions workplace legal expert Robin Bond, and it may be the best legal advice for this age gone-a-Twitter.

Three medical students were fired and 76 percent of students were warned for posting unprofessional material on the Internet, according to a study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In the anonymous survey, sent to schools in the Association of American Medical Colleges, 60 percent of the deans reported incidents of students posting unprofessional content online.

Violations of patient confidentiality were reported by 13 percent of the college deans responding to the electronic survey from the Washington VA Medical Center.

Only 38 percent of the medical schools said they had a policy in place to "cover student-posted online content," and 11 percent said they were developing new policies to stop the Internet chatter from repeating, according to the study.

In addition to sharing patient secrets, more than 50 percent of the students were shown using profanity online, 48 percent were using discriminatory language, 39 percent were drunk online, and 38 percent were shown in sexually suggestive material, the study said.

It isn't known if the med students were blogging in their Internet infractions, but Bond says with more than 27 percent of users reading blogs, they become "virtual diaries," according to an article in BusinessWire.

"Writing a blog is the online equivalent of publishing your opinions in the local paper," Bond said. "Laws of libel, slander and defamation of character do apply."

In September of 2005, 27 employees of Auto Club of California were fired for blogging about fellow employees, in articles criticizing them about their weight and other lifestyle factors.