Medical Publication Gaffes Cost Doctors

This week there were two prominent medical gaffes that garnered media attention.  The first involved the renowned Dr. Lazar Greenfield, who in a February article in Surgical News, discussed mating tendencies in fruit flies, rotifers, and humans.  He cited research that noted lower rates of depression in women practicing unprotected sex compared to those practicing protected sex, or abstaining.  But it was one particular line toward the end of his essay that sparked a backlash which led to the entire issue being yanked from the Surgery News web archive.  Since nothing is ever really deleted in cyberspace, the folks at Retraction Watch have made the original writing, and their analysis, available here.

In addition to the retraction, Dr. Greenfield resigned his post as editor of Surgical News, and as president-elect of the American College of Surgeons.  That is a harsh penalty.  Over 200 comments on Retraction Watch, as well as many more on other media outlets, hashed over the events and whether or not this was an overreaction.

It is an unfortunate situation and it should be kept in mind that Dr. Greenfield’s contributions to surgery are very significant.  His list of accomplishments is extensive, the best known being the development of an intracaval filter which can prevent otherwise fatal pulmonary emboli.  This device is used worldwide and has prevented countless deaths.  He’s the surgical equivalent not merely of an All-Star, but a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.

The second event occurred in Rhode Island, where a physician posted clinical information on Facebook.  Enough detail was posted so that it was possible to identify the patient even though there was no intent to do so.  Dr. Alexandra Thran was reprimanded by the state’s board of medicine and fined $500.  The hospital involved also terminated her privileges.

I don’t have statistics, but it seems that these types of stories more commonly involve non-physician personnel, such as nurses and technicians.  I have heard of patient photographs being posted, as well as comments and other such inappropriate social-media usage of private information.  Social media is a minefield for medical professionals, who can benefit from marketing and positive effects on branding, but take great risks if there are breaches of patient confidentiality or protected health information.  As noted above, nothing is ever deleted in cyberspace.


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