So You Wanna...Learn More About Medical Blogs

MDNG Neurology, April 2007, Volume 9, Issue 4

Medical blogging is becoming more and more popular. Learn the history of the latest phenomenon and how you can get started with your own blog.

If the AMA’s attention is any measure of importance, blogging has hit the physician mainstream. A January 15 feature in AMA Health News (www.amednews.com) highlighted “Grand Rounds,” which is a weekly review of the best blog posts by healthcare bloggers across the blogosphere. Consumers are trying desperately to fi nd more authoritative and less pharmaceutically biased health information, and blogging is garnering some of this focus.

In 1999, Jacob Reider, a family physician and medical informatician, was the second physician to write regularly and post publicly on the Internet (www.docnotes.net). His writing highlighted technologies helpful to physicians in small practices, and commented on topics of interest to generalists (immunizations, guidelines). In the years since 1999, a few dozen physicians have started their own blogs. Most have followed a diarist’s style—a personal journal that focuses on topics of interest to physicians like them. Bloggers generally stick to writing about issues within their specialty but make it more personal by including day-in-the-life details that give their writing a friendlier, more informal feel than a medical journal. For example, Reider produced the first physician’s podcast, reviewing what he did in his day of practice.

In early years, medical blogging was an insular community; bloggers read and commented on each other’s posts. In the last three years, when reviewing comments on medical blogs, you can see that the general public has discovered medblogs and are eager readers. Consumers see blogs as authentic, first-person testimonials regarding timely information on particular treatments, medications, and diseases. Consumers can read blogs for distilled opinions and information, rather than rely on sites like PubMed (www.pubmed.gov), with their often incomprehensible (to consumers) clinical information. Consumers may even begin to stray from Google, unable to confi dently choose from an unqualified list of links to information of varying quality as they see nutraceutical (nutritional supplements for sale in health food stores) advertorial content encroach. Consumers have fl ocked to more qualifi ed content, such as the physicians answering questions at blogs like About.com’s Guides. Such guides include Vincent Ianelli’s Pediatrician Guide (www.keepkidshealthy.com), where his face is prominently displayed, and his physician credentials are “googleable” for verifi cation. Others seek to pay physicians—such as Kevin Pho, Internist and popular medblogger of “Straight from the Doc” (www.straightfromthedoc.com)— specifi cally for private replies at sites like MedHelp (www.medhelp.org) and Yahoo! Answers (http://answers.yahoo.com).

Sites like WebMD (www.webmd.com), Yahoo! Health (http://health.yahoo.com), Revolution Health (www.revolutionhealth.com), and Medscape (www.medscape.com) have attempted to attract readers by hiring celebrities, physicians, and nurses as bloggers, with questionable success. They’ve failed to provide stylish writing and technologies that allow readers to continue the conversation. Readers want short, witty blog postings combined with an open community that enables them to comment on the site’s content, rate that content, write about it on their own blogs, and e-mail content to friends. They want to see authoritative content, as well as the user-generated commentary surrounding the topic. Consider the popularity of Howard Dean’s blog that drew thousands of commenters a day to his presidential candidacy forum four years ago. Political controversy drove involvement. Consider the popularity of social networking sites like MySpace (www.myspace.com), Digg (www.digg.com), and Yelp (www.yelp.com), where readers can review the products and services they consume; LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) and FaceBook (www.facebook.com), where users can provide testimonials for friends; and Flickr (www.flickr.com), PhotoBucket (www.photobucket.com) and YouTube (www.youtube.com,) which enable visitors to post photos, video fi les, and other content and send it to friends.

The popularity of these kinds of sites is rapidly spreading, leading to the development of online destinations where like-minded folks can communicate through public patient-to-patient forums—popular sites include DailyStrength (www.dailystrength.org), The Experience Project (www.experienceproject.com), Everyday Health (www. everydayhealth.com), The HealthCentral Network (www.healthcentral. com), and OrganizedWisdom (www.organizedwisdom.com). The question is whether the growth of these public forums will match the private interactions in places like CarePages (www.carepages.com) and CaringBridge (www.caringbridge.org), or at sites such as MedHelp, where questions posed by patients are answered by physicians.

Another question remains to be answered: How long will all of the venture-backed companies survive? Just as with Web 1.0, startup funds come with big expectations attached, and investors won’t wait forever (as seen during the dotcom bust a few years back). I’m glad that some of these companies are non-profi ts, but I am concerned about those that are designed to burn through all of their funding, expecting to get a bigger round of funding in the next pass. I’m expecting some spectacular fl ame-outs in the coming year or two and am saddened that many consumers will lose resources that they’ve come to rely on.

Dr. Choi is an urgent care medical informatician for PAMF, MedHelp, Epic, Misys, and Google, and the author of the blogs at www.enochchoi.com/ thoughts and www.medhelp.org/doctors/enoch-choi with a bio at www.socialtext.net/speakers/index. cgi?enoch_choi.

Learn the Basics

Visit one of these blog services. They’ll explain how you can set up your blog—usually at no cost—customize it, and get started.

Blogger

www.blogger.com

TypePad

www.typepad.com

WordPress

http://wordpress.org

Blogging Tools

This page offers more than 100 links to sites that enable users to set up a blog or add functionality to an existing blog. www.econsultant.com/web2/blogging-services.html

The Health Care Blogging Summit - April 30, 2007

Part of the Consumer Directed Healthcare Conference Las Vegas, NV

www.consumerhealthworld.com/cdhccs07

Tips for Bloggers

Only blog if you have time

Blogs require signifi cant commitment to maintain and grow. Only do it if you will have the time to nurture your Weblog and build an audience.

Read and comment on other blogs

Read blogs written by healthcare providers to learn about different blogging styles and perspectives. If you have a positive or negative reaction to a post you read, post a comment to the blog. One of the benefi ts of blogs is their ability to spark dialog and spirited debate on important topics.

Protect patient confidentiality and ensure accuracy

Be sure to preserve patient privacy and strive for accuracy—cite all your sources via hyperlinks or reference lists.

Tell your employer

If you blog under your real name, tell your employer that you are blogging and get their support. There has been at least one instance where a healthcare provider’s blog was shut down because his employer did not sanction his activity.

Consider whether to blog anonymously

Some healthcare providers decide to blog anonymously to better protect patient privacy, their careers, and families. Decide whether this is right for you. Thanks to Fard Johnmar, founder of Envision Solutions, LLC (www.envisionsolutionsnow.com) for these tips.