A note on privacy

Whenever doctors write about their patients, preserving privacy becomes a concern.  We have an immense privilege in being granted access to the lives and bodies of strangers; to use that to expose our patients for the entertainment of ourselves or others would be unacceptable.  The responsibilities associated with this right are acknowledged in the Hippocratic Oath, which I took when I graduated from medical school:

All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or in daily commerce with men, which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and will never reveal.

With that in mind, the decision to begin writing about my work in a public space was difficult.  However, I do believe it is possible to share my experience while preserving the privacy of patients.

First, all names and other identifying details are anonymized.  I assign random letters to each person I’ve mentioned, both the patients and the people taking care of them – there is no correlation to their actual names or ages.  I don’t provide specifics about where the events have taken place, except to mention my stage of training (medical school vs. residency).  I am deliberately vague about the details of people’s medical conditions – I do my best to give only enough information to provide the necessary context.

Second, the focus of my writing is not on the medical conditions of my patients.  Rather, I try to focus on my own responses to what I see.  In addition to giving the reader a look at what happens behind the scenes, my writing serves as an outlet for my emotional reactions, which are inappropriate to share with my patients and difficult to share with colleagues.

Third, I have chosen not to share my own name, location, and many identifying details about myself.  While certainly preserving my own privacy, this also makes it more difficult to link any particular patient to me.

Finally, an appeal to readers.  If you believe that you can identify a particular patient, or even me, based on what you read here, please let me know in the comments.  I will make any necessary edits to preserve the privacy of my patients, whose trust I wish to retain.

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