Neurologists Talk About Blogging

Publication
Article
MDNG NeurologyJune 2008
Volume 9
Issue 3

As the Internet's role in healthcare continues to grow, physicians are taking advantage by creating blog websites to convey their thoughts and opinions about what's happening in the industry.

As the Internet’s role in healthcare continues to grow, physicians are taking advantage by creating blog websites to convey their thoughts and opinions about what’s happening in the industry. Neurologists David Perlmutter, MD, and Olajide Williams, MD, MS, agree that blogging is an important tool used in healthcare and are active participants; Perlmutter hosts his own blog, Renegade Neurologist, and Williams is a former blogger for Revolution Health.

ith all the time constraints of running a busy neurology practice, you’re probably asking yourself why you might want to take on yet another task—creating and maintaining a blog site. Th ere are several good reasons why you should at least give the idea some consideration. First, your blog site demonstrates to patients and, perhaps more importantly, prospective patients, that you are keenly aware of the latest information as it relates to developments in neurology and/ or your sub-specialty. Second, your blog site will make you appear more approachable, as it demonstrates your willingness to interact with concerned readers. Your responses to readers’ queries give you an invaluable opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge, as well as your unique perspectives. Third, the simple act of posting to your site does indeed increase your wealth of knowledge as you review interesting postings. Fourth, having a blog site may actually save you time. For example, consider how you might respond to a patient or family member asking about some new information concerning the use of lithium in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Letting them know that you are aware of the research is good, but directing them to your blog site, where you’ve actually posted the news, goes a lot further by providing them what you consider to be the most meaningful information on the topic. Th is can save valuable offi ce time and opens the door for your patients to further explore this or other topics on your site. Finally, your blog site may actually serve as a source of revenue.

Where to begin

Although almost everyone these days is comfortable with e-mail and surfi ng the Web, the idea of actually creating an interactive website may seem too complex. Actually, creating a blog site is no more diffi cult than fi lling out an online order form to make a purchase. For RenegadeNeurologist.com, we use WordPress. This platform is state of the art, user-friendly, and free. You will be able to create your blog site and have it up and running in a matter of minutes. WordPress will automatically provide you with valuable data you can use to enhance your readership, including:

• Number of unique visitors per day and month

• Number of pages visited

• Number of pages per visit

• Top 10 most-visited pages

• Top 10 key phrases leading to your site

• Top 10 key words leading to your site

• Most popular links from other websites Knowing which are your most-visited pages, for example, will let you focus on those areas where your readers see you as having more expertise, useful information as you choose topics for future postings.

Similarly, knowing what key phrases and key words were used to drive people to your site will allow you to further refine your niche. Perhaps the most important bit of data is what URLs are feeding to your blog site. Often, these sites will be operated by people or organizations with which you are familiar. Reciprocating by posting a link on your blog back to theirs helps ensure a continued fl ow of new readers to your site.

Cha-ching!

Although there are no monetary costs associated with creating your blog site, maintaining content does require a small commitment of your valuable time, but keep in mind that your blog site may actually pay you for your time and eff ort. As your readership grows, your site becomes more valuable in terms of “real estate.” Th at is, various advertisers may consider your site to be a great opportunity for their specifi c products or services. As a neurologist, you might consider hosting ads for businesses involved in durable medical equipment, fi nancial services, or even pharmaceuticals.

Blog maintenance

Th e most important goals for a successful blog site are gaining and keeping readership. Raising awareness of your site to gain readership can be accomplished easily by adding the link to your business card, placing an announcement in your waiting room, or creating a handout card to present to patients during their offi ce visit. In addition, links from other websites can provide a rich source of new readers. Consider asking friends and business associates who have active websites to place a link on their site to your blog. Maintain your readership by posting to your site frequently, at least several times each week. Your posts should provide current and interesting information. Also, do your best to respond to the comments posted by others. Often, this will lead to new links to your site, further building readership.

Dr. Perlmutter is a Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, a Fellow of the American College of Nutrition, and serves as Medical Director of the Perlmutter Health Center and the Perlmutter Hyperbaric Center in Naples, FL.

A cyber-world has evolved from a technological “big bang.” Planetary systems are forming across this e-universe at mind-boggling rates. One such system is the medical blogosphere. It is a world in which topic specialists, pseudo-specialists, students, and every cadre of healthcare professional come together with patients, caregivers, and anyone else who fi nds the portal to share information, ideas, and opinions. It is often interactive and informal, devoid of peerreview validations, which may make postings vulnerable to error, and at times misleading. But the blogosphere is here to stay, and many physicians have begun to develop savvy cybereducation curriculums that may conceivably eclipse conventional public health education eff orts.

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Personal experiences

My most rewarding activity as the neurology subject matter expert at Revolution Health was blogging. I covered an array of self-selected topics that I felt would be of public interest or public benefi t, ranging from neurological eff ects of TASER guns and tingly thighs as a complication of low-riding pants to the life-saving symptoms and signs of stroke. I reviewed new multiple sclerosis treatments, important late-breaking research articles, and told stories of patient experiences that were inspired by real events to highlight a particular condition. Sometimes, comments and responses from readers were so interactive that they reminded me of the journal clubs that are common to academic life. Sometimes, they were simply inspiring. Indeed, one could describe the experience as a “laypersons” medical journal club populated by many victims and caregivers, and presided over by a medical referee.

Overcoming challenges

There are real challenges with blogging:

critical issues that must be appreciated before beginning a medical blog. Th e most crucial of these is the basic recognition that medical blogs are not designed to diagnose or treat any medical condition. A face-to-face physician visit is required for this feat. And because many individuals who seek out medical blogs are either affl icted with the particular condition of interest or have a close friend or family member who is affl icted, turning a blog into a consultation clinic can have both tragic and/ or legal consequences. When confronted with such a scenario, I simply recommend that the individual visits his or her doctor’s offi ce, while reinforcing that the information posted cannot be generalized in the absence of a fi rm physician diagnosis, even if overlapping symptoms with the condition described are experienced by the consumer.

Another challenge is consumer sensitivity. Consumers may have strong opinions that may collide with the blogger’s posting. Some may be avid proponents of complementary/alternative medicine who are off ended by certain postings promoting conventional medical approaches to a particular disease. Some may be mentally disturbed, or perhaps psychologically fragile to a point where the truth about their condition becomes hard to bear. In such cases, comments may be belligerent or even inappropriate, and it is important for the blogger to address these respectfully, utilizing his or her license to delete such comments when deemed necessary. If a blog becomes very successful (as defi ned by number of “hits”), it is not unlikely to discover comments with advertising agendas: comments designed to advertise a product or website with minimal relevance to the topic at hand or comments designed for patient recruitment into a clinical research trial. Overall, I remain a big fan of blogs—their ability to inform or dispel medical myths. I enjoy the candor of patients and the openness that comes with anonymity. It confers an ability to reach and learn from a global village of consumers, and not just the ones in my New York City backyard. It forces me to stay sharp—to cling to the cutting-edge neurological knowledge and extend my professorial reach into the cyber-world.

Dr. Williams is an assistant professor of clinical neurology at Columbia University and serves as the director of the Harlem Hospital Stroke Initiative in New York, NY.

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