UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Med-Legal

Title: Leave no trace - The Dangers of online diaries

Keywords: legal, malpractice, discovery, privacy, online (PubMed Search)

Posted: 9/12/2009 by Daniel Lemkin, MS, MD (Emailed: 9/19/2009) (Updated: 9/19/2009)
Click here to contact Daniel Lemkin, MS, MD

Beware of your online contributions, they can come back to hurt you in legal settings. You must remember that there is a digital trail of everything you post online. Discovery rules vary state to state. It is best to practice save surfing. What you may perceive as paranoia is really just good practice.

The following guidelines apply to:

  • Email
  • Online chats: google chat, IRC, AOL AIM, MSN
  • Social networks: Facebook, Mypage, Medical networking pages, etc
  • Any online medium, forum, discussion site

General guidelines

  • Do not reference any patient cases with dates (regardless of hipaa identifiers)
  • Do not provide any medical advice for specific cases online
    • Add a disclaimer for general advice (see the disclaimers for these pearls as example)
  • Do not discuss any potential or ongoing legal cases with peers PERIOD, especially electronic methods with a record.
  • Do not document ethically questionable behavior online
    • ie: "that time in vegas when you got sooooo drunk"

Assume that whenever you hit send, your message will be available to a plaintiff attorney who will twist it to suit his/her needs. The only potential exception is direct email communication to your personal legal counsel. Please verify that local laws protect this form of communication before making an assumption of privacy.

[This pearl is a review of published general recommendations on privacy practices and should not be interpreted as, or replace competent legal advice.]


Brenner, Ilene MD. Anything you tweet can, and will, be used against you. Emergency Physician's Monthly. September 2009. Vol 16-9.