Close-Up: Blogs

Physician's Money Digest, September 2005, Volume 12, Issue 13

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Blogs: Also known as Web logs, blogs are a frequent, chronologicalpublication of personal thoughts and Web links.

It would be easy to think that blogs are a technology-basedcommunication medium that only yesterdaysprang to creation. In actuality, people maintained blogslong before the term was even coined. Blogs are basically ajournal that is available on the Web. Some are personal journals,while others resemble newsletters or columns. Often,they contain links to other sources of content.

To get a better idea of what blogs are, the Web siteHowStuffWorks.com suggests you first think of a normalWeb site. It usually has a home page with links to manysubpages that contain more detail. In contrast, a blog isnormally a single page of entries, organized in reverse-chronologicalorder, from the most recent entry to the oldest,and the entries usually come from a single author.

BusinessWeek

According to an article in , there areabout 9 million blogs in existence, with 40,000 new onespopping up every day. Many people believe blogs willchange the complexion of a business, and some doctorsare jumping on the bandwagon.

Why Blog?

A blog can be an incredible tool for sharing information.A recent Pew Research Center survey indicates thatonly 27% of Internet users in America bother to readblogs. However, given the public's thirst for medical informationon illnesses they or their family members may beexperiencing and the doctors who treat these conditions,physicians may have a leg up on other businesses when itcomes to blogging.

Los Angeles Times

It might be helpful to think of blogs as niche publications.A physician with interest in a specific disease couldpost news articles and bits of research available on thattopic. In that way, blogs help establish a relationship withvisitors and build a climate of trust. As a case in point, arecent article in the reports on a familymedicine physician in Philadelphia whose blog, the"Examining Room," gets more than 2000 hits a week. Thedoctor is quoted as stating, "There are so many middlemenin medicine, and 10-minute office visits are so rushedthat communication between doctors and patients is reallylimited. There is a lot of dissatisfaction, but there is alsoa real desire to strip down the barriers between doctorsand patients. I see my blog as a constructive way to getback to that magical doctor-patient relationship, whereyou sort of know your doctor."

Physicians can also use blogs posted by others to helpimprove their personal finances. For example, AllThingsFinancial.blogspot.com is a personal finance blog dedicatedto discussing such topics as budgeting, asset allocation,401(k), IRA, cash flow, insurance, financial planning,portfolio management, and other areas. There are alsoblogs that provide information on what you need to knowabout insurance, such as Insurance-Weblog.com.

Potential Downside

One of the nice things about blogs is that each postingis dated and time-stamped. That's particularly attractivefor physicians who might want to post the latest treatmentinformation available on a particular condition.However, that's also a downside because someone has toupdate the blog on a regular basis. Some blogs are updateddaily, but various sources suggest that a blog should beupdated at least once a week. This could be time-consumingfor physicians with hectic schedules.

Blogs also need to sound authentic. Some businesseshire writers to construct and maintain their blogs.However, the important element with blogs is that the personalityof the writer needs to come through. This is especiallytrue for physicians, who could be communicatingwith many current and potential patients. A physician'sblog should not read like a business memo; rather, itshould reflect the physician's personality. For physicianswho do not like to write, this could be a downside.

Unfortunately, in today's litigious society there's alwaysthe possibility that information contained in a doctor'sblog could be used as the foundation for a medical malpracticesuit. Remember that blogs are free to everyoneand anyone to read, not just your patients.

Some physicians believe that blogs have the potentialto improve the way medical research is disseminated tothe public, considering that online access to articles isusually restricted to subscribers. But will blogs create amore trusting doctor-patient relationship? Only time willtell.

Creating Your Own Blog

The Web site HowStuffWorks.com suggeststhat thanks to a wide assortment of Web-basedtools, creating and managing your own blog hasbecome relatively simple. Blogger is one of themore popular tool sets, and creating a simple blogis free and takes about 5 minutes.

According to the Web site, you simply enter yourname, e-mail address, and a few other pieces ofinformation, select how you want your blog to lookfrom a set of standard templates, and after a fewmore clicks you're done. And adding new entries orediting your blog is quick and easy as well.

Your blog can also live for free at Blogger.com,where you can create a customized Web address.Since the blog hosting is free, Blogger puts ads atthe top of your blog. You may want to find outwhat ads will be appearing with your blog. For$15 a year, Blogger.com will turn off the ads. Also,for a monthly fee, you can add other features toyour blog, such as the ability to incorporate photos.Another wayto eliminate theads is to hostyour blog yourselfon some otherWeb site. Feeswill generally beimposed, so becertain to checkwhat they are.

POP QUIZ

1) Blog entries are usually listed in what order?

  1. Chronological
  2. Importance
  3. Reverse-chronological
  4. Random

2) A blog normally consists of how many Web pages?

  1. One
  2. Two
  3. Three
  4. More than 5

3) How many new blogs appear every day?

  1. 30,000
  2. 40,000
  3. 50,000
  4. 75,000

4) Blogs can help physicians

  1. Disseminate information
  2. Communicate with patients
  3. Enhance physician-patient relationships
  4. All of the above

5) Experts suggest that blogs should be updated at least

  1. Hourly
  2. Daily
  3. Weekly
  4. Monthly

Answers: 1) c; 2) a; 3) b; 4) d; 5) c.