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Can you keep a secret? Why do we need secrets?

A Brief History of Secrecy

Dr  Sampurna Roy  MD    




Hippocratic Oath that says "Whatever I see or hear in the lives of my patients, I will keep secret, as considering all such things to be private".

Can you keep a secret?  When somebody asks you this, you probably say yes, even if you cannot. In the digital age not many can resist the temptation of giving out private information of their close friends. 

Best and quickest way to circulate unwanted gossip is social media.

Many enter private circle of friends out of curiosity, to gain vital clue of their personal lives. As soon as someone discover that someone else has the latest scoop they try hard to extract that information out from them one way or another.

Primitive Tribe and Secret Societies:

Thousands of years ago primitive tribes and clans had secret societies which were often very powerful and important. The members of the secret societies took oath of secrecy and would often meet to perform magical rites. The powers they were supposed to possess gave them great influence over rest of the tribe. Many religious, social and political groups connected in the same way. There were no facebook or twitter in those early days. The members of these primitive societies pledged to help each other in times of difficulty.

A society usually decide to be a secret one rather than a public one for two reasons:

- Being part of a secret group gives the members power over other people who are not part of the same clan/society,   

- Members feel closely united by the secrets they share.This feeling of unity and brotherhood gives them strength to carry on their activity with great enthusiasm.

Unfortunately some of these united groups can do great harm instead of good and can destroy lives and even kill people.

Language and Messages:

Secret societies sometimes have a special language and  secret words so that they can talk of important matters without other people being able to understand. Some tribes have a secret language so they can keep their affairs private from the curiosity of the neighbour.

Probably everyone has used secret language at one time or another. However, the worst thing about a secret language is that it annoys people who do not understand it.

In social media you may have met some users who are constantly making personal comments. They become aggressive when unfollowed and pick up subtle fights with strangers. They talk too much and poke people to start irrelevant conversation.

Some of them use suggestive photographs, blog posts, quotations and target specific people. One should be careful of these sociopaths, as they can wreck havoc in your professional and personal lives.

Modern Digital Age and Social Media:

In the modern age every country has its secrets. For example, there are official secrets often about such things as weapons and plans of defence in case of war, and there are severe penalties for anyone who betrays them.

Most countries have their spies, or secret agents, on the lookout for any information they can get about possible enemies, and at the same time other agents are doing their best to outwit the enemy spies and prevent any information leaking out.

Espionage, as spying of this kind is called, is a dangerous and unpleasant job, even though it may be very exciting in books and movies (we all love James Bond 007).

In the digital age we are happily passing on information about our personal and professional lives on social media like twitter, facebook and instagram.

The same information is often distorted in a negative way and presented by paid brand advocates.

Some brand advocates form strong online tribes and viciously attack and ridicule their rivals in public platform. Many of these paid advocates use hashtags with vested interest to ruin reputation of a respectable person or celebrity. 

Cyberstalking has become a way of life for some people. They will stalk you for the rest of your life till you fall sick.

Medical Secrecy:

Medical secrecy is protection of intimate information of patients that is given to the doctor. Patients often reveal their most hidden secrets to their doctor with the hope to recover their health. Doctors should receive those secrets with respect and care. They are servers and not owners of the information.

A doctor has taken professional oath to honor the trust of his patient and maintaining strict confidence of what is revealed.  This also includes material received from patients like gross surgical specimens, slides (Hematoxylin and Eosin and special stains). Critical diagnosis is made by the  pathologist which is passed on to the clinician.

At the end of the day a doctor is not expected to show those private slides to the world and a clinician is not expected to give minute details of how he is treating his patient.

When we write a story about a patient even after changing the name, we are actually giving away vital clues of that patient.  

Each country has its own set of rules about using social media and personal blogs for medical education. As long as we follow the rule of the country and respect the universal Hippocratic oath, blogging and use of social media will be a wonderful experience for all medical professionals.

Today, I was surprised to find names of five internationally renowned pathologists in LinkedIn with one line bio and no profile pictures. I changed my profile picture after 6 years and felt like a narcissist.This is the universal mindset of every doctor and academic around the world.


What belongs to you today, belonged to someone else yesterday, and will be someone else's tomorrow .Change is the law of the universe.  Bhagavad Gita









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