Thursday, June 28, 2007

Hospitals v Bloggers

Paris (Texas, not Hilton) is home to the Paris Regional Medical Center.
And so, you ask?
Turns out, a disgruntled blogger has been busy pointing out sundry (and alleged) nasty items about said health care institution.
Apparently, the bloggers* -- who have thus far remained anonymous -- claim that PRMC has engaged in various criminal enterprises, including Medicare fraud. In fact, it appears that the bloggers have been fed specific information from actual hospital employees, which raises a number of issues, not the least of which would be potential HIPAA privacy violations.
[*ed: At this point, it's not certain whether the blog is run by one person or several, so I went with the multiple to keep it simple]
The hospital is hardly taking this lying down; they've convinced a court to order the bloggers' ISP to disclose their identities.
As in the case of Dr Flea, there are a number of issues in play here. As The Assertive Patient notes, there are competing interests: "Is the blog uncovering wrongdoing by the hospital? And is the hospital retaliating by bringing the suit? Will the blog be protected by the First Amendment, as other publications are?"
It's not immediately clear that so-called "Shield Laws" will apply in this case. After all, these are not journalists, but bloggers. There's an argument to be made, however, that bloggers are "citizen journalists," and I wouldn't necessarily argue against that characterization. But it seems to me that this is far from clear-cut.
In the meantime, I suspect that this story will become the most recent cause celebre (literally, Celebrity Cruise) for the medblogosphere, and we'll keep IB readers informed as we learn more.
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