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SERMO adviser responds to reader's concerns

A medical adviser to SERMO responded to a reader who questioned the security of physicians sharing anonymous patient data over the social network.

Editor's note: received this feedback in response to the article, Reader questions utility of SERMO social network. The letter has been edited for style, but not for content.

Ms. Bennett's concerns about patient confidentiality and privacy are understandable, but frankly not warranted. SERMO, as a virtual doctors' lounge, has duplicated online what physicians have been doing with live case presentations in the privacy of hospital conference rooms and lecture halls for decades. That is, presenting clinical cases for the purposes of discussion and teaching.

Patients' personal information is always deleted from these presentations and -- as was true with old offline decisions -- patients may or may not be aware of these conferences.

Patient cases and clinical questions arise in these venues for the benefit of the patient. Ultimately that is the essence of the issue and the positive [side] of a service like SERMO, to improve patient care.

Doctors are normal and relaxed when in private, like other human beings. So it would be a misinterpretation to judge their online banter as anything more than what may occur in a private physician's lounge or conference room.

As professionals, doctors are always asked to be at their best. SERMO provides them with a collegial environment where they can relax a bit and discuss important clinical cases as well as just about everything else that affects their lives.

Rest assured that patient information is always removed from these discussions; [that information] remains private and protected. Know that your doctor's participation is designed to help you, the patient, with a specific problem by consulting with peers around the globe who have the combined expertise of thousands of other doctors.

There is no reason to be concerned that any doctor occasionally lets her [guard] down in private. After all, we [physicians] are human, and we all benefit from a private lounge with our colleagues where we can be ourselves.

SERMO is this lounge. Frankly, it is one of the most innovative and effective tools for physician communication that has been developed to date, and it is growing.

Please know your privacy is safe with SERMO and the participating physicians are learning from one another for the benefit of their patients.

Richard A. Armstrong M.D., FACS, member of the SERMO medical advisory board

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