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Examining the Medical Blogosphere

Examining the Medical Blogosphere…

You put it very nicely, identity card. I like it. I guess we were after the same thing with our research. We really wanted to paint the portrait of medical bloggers. All of the authors of our study are passionate readers of medical blogs. We followed the medical blogosphere from its beginnings and were genuinely fascinated by it. All of a sudden something new came along and you were given front row seats to musings of truly amazing medical professionals and scientists. It was like having your own personal online mentors. After a while some of us started blogging themselves, so you can say that we were not strangers to the medical blogosphere. However, we still had a lot of questions and were eager to learn and find answers.

There are a lot of place were to find…

We were quite surprised that despite the popularity of medical blogs, scientific studies about them did not basically exist. You had stories originating among top medical bloggers appearing in The New York Times or in the news sections of the core scientific journals, but nobody ever conducted any serious scientific research of medical bloggers and their blogs. We wanted to correct this by conducting a survey of top medical bloggers to find out who they are, what they write about, when, where, and how they do it, and what their motives for blogging are.

What came out from the research?

Some of the results were expected, but some surprised even us. For example the fact that 71% of surveyed blogger had a Masters degree or doctorate.

What is the blogging motivation for a medical blogger?

Our study has showed that major motivations for blogging among medical bloggers were sharing practical knowledge or skills with others, influencing the way other people think, and expressing oneself creatively. Making money and staying in touch with friends and family were not reasons to blog for a majority of the participants. This is very the most crucial differences among medical bloggers and general bloggers lie.

What do you mean?

Other studies conducted on general bloggers demonstrated that connecting with people, pouring out feelings and staying in touch with family and friends were more important to them. However, we have to emphasize that we included only a small sample of medical bloggers in our study and have to be careful about generalizing to the whole population. We hope to see more research in the future.

“The Good, The Bad, The Dangerous”: what do you think about medical blogosphere?

I think all the best about medical blogosphere and our research findings have made this felling even stronger for me. Of course you will always find the bad and the dangerous ones which try to infiltrate to gain something for themselves. There are a lot of people trying to sell you dangerous medical products for example, people whose advice you really should not follow. It is wise to always study the web site you are reading. I realize that it is sometimes more difficult for patients to identify fraud than for us medical professionals, but there are some simple guides you can follow.

Any tip?

First of all, it is always a good idea to check if the blog has The Health On the Net Foundation, HONcode.

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This organization promotes and guides the deployment of useful and reliable online health information, and its appropriate and efficient use.
Even if the site does not have this code, you can still review it your self following the HONcode principles.
Also, it is a good idea to search for blogs among reliable sources. Health Blogs Observatory which you can use. If a blog is listed there, you can be sure it is legit, because it has been thoroughly reviewed before inclusion and placed in the appropriate category.

How can blogs be an important vehicle to influence medical and health policy?

Blogs can be an important vehicle to influence medical and health policy for several reasons. They facilitate communication and discussion. They are not just a one way street, not a place where some authority forces you to listed to his/her monologue. Such blogs are dead before they even know it. It is this openness that is their greatest power. You are directly connected to great people, influential people. You read their thought and ideas, and you can influence them by leaving comments, entering discussions. This is incredible.

Any notable example?

For example, the President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston has his own blog called Running a Hospital. A hospital CEO used to be this untouchable person sitting in an office behind 10 heavily secured doors. Now you can communicate with him on equal terms through his blog, and if you have something smart to say, he will listen. Also medical blogs are getting extremely popular. We can even consider some medical bloggers today to be almost professional journalists. Mass media listen to what they and their readers have to say. This amplifies their message and their influence. You mentioned Facebook.

What about Facebook?

Facebook has a great potential in medicine. LinkedIn is currently maybe even better for medical professionals. Any tool which allows speedy communication, uninterrupted and instant flow of information is fantastic. Facebook can do this, whether it is between medical professionals, research groups or even hospitals and their patients. Facebook has done incredible things for some groups and we should learn from this. Just take a look at what happened in Egypt with your people demonstrating against their government.

The hottest new tool?

definitely Twitter. Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users’ updates (known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length. Almost all of my fellow medical bloggers are using Twitter right now, because it gets the message through even quicker than a blog.

What do you think the future holds for the online medical community?

I think we will see more and more medical professionals joining online communities. There is no escaping that, this will be necessary for those who want to grow professionally. The Open Access movement will grow stronger. More scientific journals will allow free access to their articles. More and more medical knowledge will be available for free, papers, textbooks, videos etc. Online projects will move to a new level. People will collaborate online on various research projects. This is what we are now trying to do with our Health Blogs Observatory which is a sort of a online research laboratory devoted to examination of the health blogosphere.

Health Blogs Observatory: what is the main purpose?

We want to conduct an open scientific research project. Allow other professionals to influence each aspect of the research, from planning to data analysis and presentation. The whole concept of scientific publishing will change, it just remains to see to what extent. I think the best prediction can be given if we take a look at the entertainment industry. We are always a few years behind them, because they are always the first to explore new territories. For example YouTube. Who would have thought just 2-3 years ago that YouTube was anything else than a portal for your kids to watch music videos. Well today many respectable medical institutions and science publishers have their YouTube channels which have proved to be much needed and popular.

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