Sunday, March 15, 2009

Using a doctor's real name online

(This post is an edit of a reply I made today to a request on The Colon Club, asking me for the real name of the doc I refer to lovingly as "Dr. Personality." I replied to the original poster privately with the information s/he requested. The thread where this discussion occurred is linked above--just click on the title of this post.)

The original poster's question brings up another issue, and something that people really *do* need to take into consideration when posting on such a high traffic, heavily searched board. There are ramifications--some good, some bad, and some that could make you personally liable for court actions--when you post contact information, comments and 'reviews' of doctors and hospitals using the real name of the doctor and/or hospital.

Now and then, I slip and use a real name with a comment. Not often--I try to be careful. When I slip, I blame chemo brain and I'll stick to that story! If the question is just a simple 'who is your doc?' I'll answer that with a real name...but I'll usually answer privately. Most times, when I mention a doctor by name I try to be careful to just include a name, and not a review or even a comment (whether that review/comment would be good or bad.) I will post links to their research, or discuss their research in the abstract. I may mention certain identifying characteristics which, if someone wants to connect the dots, will allow them to come to the correct conclusion if they wonder who I'm writing about (such as the fact that my doc has a twin who is a colorectal surgeon... or that she was interviewed a few years ago by 'Real Simple' magazine.)

But I really try to avoid writing and posting public reviews of doctors or hospitals. I just don't think it's professional (I do get paid for my writing), nor do I consider it appropriate or courteous as a patient, to post using real names in a support forum venue. I know that people are looking for information--but there are better ways to get it. Go to the medical centers' websites, and do searches for doctors at the hospitals you're considering--the places which currently employ them. You'll find out all sorts of things. Meanwhile, if you want to know about my docs, PM me...and I'll answer any question you have privately.

Every post on a public, searchable forum puts that entire post, including any real names included, into search engine and private computer caches every single time that post is read, every time that thread is refreshed...and that stuff stays in those caches for a looong time. I try to follow the same rules for public posts that I follow for business email--I don't ever want to post something that I wouldn't want to read aloud in front of my grandmother, or in front of the person involved. When I post, I ask myself if using the person's real name would or could:
-- cause another person harm or perceived harm
-- negatively affect the reputation of a person or organization (unless I'm clearly writing political opinion or editorial, which I occasionally do on my blog--and where me playing nice isn't part of the rules)
-- attach my name and/or my picture to a statement that a person could perceive as harmful to his/her personal or professional reputation, and therefore put me personally at risk
-- attach my name and/or my picture to something that will show up, long after I die, in a Google search of someone else's name

I've used the online screen name 'Gaelen' for going on 20 years now. I run forums as Gaelen, write as Gaelen, blog as Gaelen...the nickname or screen name is associated with me. In fact, the name of my cookbook-in-progress is 'Notes from Gaelen's Kitchen.' Are there links to my real name and picture online? Um...yeah. But most of them are still at least one or two degrees of separation away from my posts as other words, if you search for Gaelen, you'll get some references and links, sooner or later, to my real name and picture. But so far, none of them show up on the first page of a casual search--and yeah, I check. ;-)

For those of you who've been reading here for awhile, you'll know that my picture (yeah--that's really me, taken the summer before dx) only became my avatar a few days ago. I thought long and hard before putting that avatar up here, because I do not link my real picture with my real name on high traffic boards. Among other reasons, it's just not personally smart for a woman who lives alone to have her picture, ner name and her location in search engines all over the net. So although my current avatar appears elsewhere on the 'net, it doesn't show up with cancer information that relates directly back to my doctors' names. I will likely switch it to something else pretty soon--to keep at least the illusion of a couple of degrees of separation from Gaelen and the internet, and the real world in which my docs and I interact.

I'd like to extend the same courtesy to my doctors and to the places where I'm treated. When I like their work--and when I don't--they deserve to hear that directly from me. They don't deserve to find out what a patient thinks of his/her latest doc visit, good OR bad, when they take a look at the first page of their name searches on Google (or anywhere else for that matter...) They especially don't deserve to have that information about our visits come up when OTHER patients Google their names.

Dr. Personality is a brilliant, hard-@ssed scientist-doctor who is also my NYC medical oncologist. She's not sweet and cuddly--but I don't need sweet and cuddly in a white coat when I'm in the fight of my life--I can get plenty of 'sweet and cuddly' from the red coats and blue roan coats with four legs who slept on my bed last night. ;) Dr. Bright Eyes (aka Dr. Sparkly Blue Eyes) and Dr. Birkenstocks are my colorectal and urologic surgeons, respectively. If you ever meet any of them, you'll know exACTly why I gave them those nicknames and you'll agree that the nicknames fit them perfectly. I've gotten emails and PMs after a post with those nicknames asking "is your doc so-and-so, because he or she is my doc, too." Their patients who encounter those posts will recognize those docs by their nicknames--but people who aren't their patients will (hopefully) not automatically have negative issues with those doctors, nor will those doctors get negative fallout because of my posts.

I give most of my docs nicknames to give me the freedom to relate the steps of my treatment without putting either them or myself permanently into a Google search engine using our real names. Just in case my grandmothers (rest their souls) can read this in their afterlives... ;-) My docs repect their end of doctor-patient confidentiality...and they have a right to expect the same courtesy from me as their patient.

And that's why I choose not to post to most forums using my real name, and why I do not often refer to my doctors by their real names. YMMV--but remember, your grandmother--or your doctor--may be reading your post!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:32 AM

    Oh dear, I've used "Dr Ricardo" and "Dr Ana" on my blog and on the Colon Club forum. On the other hand, since I'm in Spain, I doubt too many people would be interested in looking them up.

    I've never used my real name on a public forum or blog. But to be honest, these days "azahar sevilla" is almost more real than my real name.


Thanks for reading. These posts have all been moved to my new site at and no further comments are being accepted here. Please feel free to come on over to the new site and stay on top of my Life Out Loud.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.