Beware of what you write on the Internet

January 9, 2008

It’s not uncommon for plaintiffs’ attorneys to review the published works of defendant physicians. If a plaintiff’s lawyer finds that a defendant physician’s testimony conflicts with his published work, the attorney could use this “prior inconsistent statement” to attack the physician’s credibility.

It’s not uncommon for plaintiffs’ attorneys to review the published works of defendant physicians. If a plaintiff’s lawyer finds that a defendant physician’s testimony conflicts with his published work, the attorney could use this “prior inconsistent statement” to attack the physician’s credibility.

Now it seems this also holds true if the defendant physician blogs on the Internet. A Massachusetts Superior Court heard the case of a Boston-area pediatrician, who allegedly failed to diagnose a 12-year-old boy’s diabetes. The boy later died of diabetic ketoacidosis, according to American Medical News (8/13/2007). On the stand, the pediatrician was “outed” as a blogger, who had written about the complaint and his deposition on the Internet.

He also described his meetings with his attorney and a jury preparation expert, an action that put him at risk of losing client-attorney privilege. Experts say that if the plaintiff’s attorney discovered the blog, the lawyer could question the pediatrician about the coaching-and, again, open his credibility to attack.

Turns out the plaintiff’s attorney did read the pediatrician’s blog. She didn’t use it to question him about the coaching during the malpractice trial, but she could have used it to establish a prior inconsistent statement. Ultimately, the suit was settled, and the details kept confidential.

Although medical blogging isn’t widespread, here are some tips to protect your career if you do go online:

  • Write to educate.

  • Don’t blow off steam on your blog or anyone else’s.

  • Avoid writing anything that you would not want attributed to you if your identity online is discovered-a chance you take, even if you blog or post anonymously.

  • Don’t post anything defamatory.