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Interview with Dr. Flea

I use the famous story of Dr. Flea, an anonymous medical “star-blogger” , who had a malpractice lawsuit but kept on blogging about the situation in my Internet in Medicine course when I tell students about the potential troubles around blogging as a doctor. His story in a nutshell (reviews 1, 2 and 3):

In May 2007 Robert Lindeman, a pediatrician from the Boston area, found himself uncomfortably in the public eye when the Boston Globe exposed his pseudonymous life as a blogger in a sensational front page story. The reason? Dr. Lindeman, who clearly loves writing, had been live-blogging under the name “Flea” about his experiences as a medical malpractice defendant. The plaintiff’s attorney found out, he was exposed on the witness stand, and the case immediately settled. His site came down and he disappaeared from the blogosphere.

Now Dr. Robert Lindeman kindly accepted my invitation and gave a short interview about the whole issue and about what has happened since then.

1) You replied to my Facebook message as Flea. Do you still prefer using this name online?

For my old blogging friends, I like to use my old moniker, even if they know my real name. It helps me reconnect with a period of my career that I miss very much.

2) Please tell your story briefly to the readers. What happened to Dr. Flea years ago?

VERY BRIEFLY, a mother in my practice sued me for malpractice. My terrific lawyer and my med-mal insurance company agreed that I had not committed malpractice, so the matter went to trial. I made the heinous mistake of giving the play-by-play of the trial live at my blog. A colleague of the plaintiff’s attorney, who trolls medical blogs, tipped her off that I was doing this. She asked me about it at trial. We settled that day. The blog was full of sources of what attorneys call “prior inconsistent statements”. In laypersons terms, these are statements that can make your opponent look like a schmuck at trial. Seeing no way to defend these statements on the fly, we gave up. I took down the blog the same day. I killed Flea.

3) What about the aftermath? Did this story change the way you practice medicine?

I’m gratified to say that this has NOT changed the way I practice medicine. All that has changed is that I know now that I have survived a shark attack. If it happens again, God-forbid, I know I can survive that one too.

4) A year later, you gave an interview to an injury law blogger and you told him an advice for new medical bloggers: Do not blog anonymously. Do you still think the same?

No question, anonymous blogging is dumb. Period. Don’t do it.

5) Please tell us what you do now and whether you plan to update/manage any online presence such as blogs, Twitter accounts, etc.

I severely limit anything that I write in any forum, electronic or otherwise. I granted this interview primarily because I made these statements in an interview already. The sharks are in the water, Berci. It is foolish to try to behave as if it were otherwise.

6) What do you think about the growing importance of social media in medicine and healtchare?

Social media have helped amplify the voices of the minority, present company included, but only to a certain extent. Crap information that goes viral on the web is still crap information. We all have access to a lot more information than we used to. But we are no wiser.

Go ahead and create a medium that increases the collective wisdom and you’ll really have something.

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