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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Flea's fall sobering for other bloggers

By Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent

If there was any remaining doubt, the settlement of Natick pediatrician and medical blogger Dr. Robert Lindeman's malpractice trial removed any illusion that blogging could be done anonymously.

Under the name Flea -- a derogatory term surgeons used for pediatricians when he was in training -- Lindeman posted opinions on his case and the plaintiff's lawyer, described his preparations for it and the defense strategy, and commented on the jurors. Today's Globe story details how the plaintiff's lawyer asked him on the stand if he was Flea. The case, which was settled the next day, involved the 2002 death of a 12-year-old patient from complications of diabetes.

Dr. Kevin Pho, a Nashua, NH, internal medicine physician who blogs under his own name on Kevin, M.D., called the situation sobering. He said he doesn't know Lindeman or anything about the malpractice case.

"I blog under my own name so I have to be more tempered in my posts," he said in an interview today. "But I think it's a mistake to assume that people won't find out who you are. You can assume there's no anonymity on the Web. People can find out who you are."

Pho has been blogging for close to four years, but after the Flea blog came down, as Pho reported on his blog May 16, he removed some of his own items.

"I don't blog about patients. I stay away from all of that," he said. "Reading what happened to Flea, I've taken out 20 to 30 posts that would have been a little more controversial just because I wanted to play it safe. I don't want any posts to come back and bite me."

Eric Turkewitz, a lawyer who writes the New York Personal Injury Law Blog, posts today that he'd been fascinated by Flea's blog, although he does not know him or the specifics of the malpractice case. And he says he was not alone, listing 30 blogs, including this one, that took note of Flea's trial.

"The subject was, simply put, irresistible," Turkewitz writes. "I know that I found his activity fascinating, not only for its raw content, but also for the walking-a-high-wire-without-a-net danger of what he was doing."

Turkewitz doesn't forget the plaintiffs.

"This case was a tragedy for two parents, and a nightmare for a doctor," he writes.

As for the medical bloggers, they're feeling gun-shy, Pho said.

"It's a little bit sad in a way. The whole purpose of blogging is to be open and pull back the curtain to talk about how it really is," he said. "So the question is, how realistic is that? I think that's what physicians and other health professionals are wrestling with right now. It's part of the growing pains of the medical blogosphere."

David E. Williams, co-founder of MedPharma Partners LLC in Boston, says on his Health Business Blog that he won't debate Lindeman's case but gives this endorsement:

"Let me just say that Rob is a fantastic pediatrician and a wonderful human being. If you have kids and live anywhere near Natick, MA you should consider choosing him as their physician," he says. "I just wish he had blogged under his real name rather than anonymously. The world is a poorer place now that his blog is gone."

Dr. Tim Sturgill, an emergency physician in Sacramento, Calif., who finished law school in December, makes this point on his blog, symtym.

"Arrogance, ignorance, or both? Dr. Lindeman’s most potent defense was his character -— a character the Flea so thoroughly impeached —- case over and settled," he writes, then quotes from Hosea 8:7: " 'For they sow the wind and they reap the whirlwind.' "

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:00 AM
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