Physicians have been writing about patient cases to enlighten their medical colleagues since well before Freud. In recent decades, though, the audiences for physician writings have broadened—blogs, pop-science books, memoirs are now often intended for lay readers. In these works, patient relationship narratives can encourage reflection among physicians, raise awareness about patients’ experience of illness, or serve as a prism for exploring our shared humanity. Authors in this month’s issue discuss how physicians and medical students can protect patients while pursuing the full range of worthwhile aims as writers.
There are two main approaches to telling patient stories in medical memoir. One is securing informed consent from the patients whose stories we tell; the other is de-identification. Each of these, however, creates new problems.
Physician-journalists balance the ethical requirements of two professions with competing goals. Physicians must “do patients no harm ” and “keep secret” what they “see or hear”; journalists seek out and disseminate information in service of public enlightenment.