The Trust and Credibility of Healthcare Blogs

Reading time: 5 – 8 minutes

A recent survey from Zogby International finds that more than half of Americans (55%) believe bloggers are important to the future of American journalism and 74% said that citizen journalism and Web 2.0 websites such as NowPublic will play a vital new role [1].

NowPublic Crowd Powered Media describes itself as:

… a participatory news network which mobilizes an army of reporters to cover the events that define our world. In twelve short months, the company has become one of the fastest growing news organizations with thousands of reporters in over 140 countries. During Hurricane Katrina, NowPublic had more reporters in the affected area than most news organizations have on their entire staff.

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NowPublic citizen reporters can do several things, including contribute news stories, blog posts and photos, rank stories and add their own comments. Additionally, they can “Crowd Source” a story, allowing others to add photos, videos and audio to the story. Regardless of ranking, NowPublic editors can bump stories to the the front page.

The Zogby survey also ranked news sources:

More respondents (81%) said Web sites are important as a source of news, although television ranked nearly as high (78%), followed by radio (73%). Newspapers and magazines trailed — 69% said newspapers and 38% said magazines were important. While blogs were rated as important sources of news by 30% of the online respondents, they were not considered as good a news source as the backyard fence — 39% said their friends and neighbors are an important source of information.

However, a majority of the nationwide online respondents said Internet social networking sites and blogging will play in important role in the future of journalism. But they added that trustworthiness will be important to the future of the industry — 90% said trust will be key.

In 2006, Envision Solutions and The Medical Blog Network (now Trusted.MD) conducted a survey of medical bloggers, the results of which were presented at the first Healthcare Blogging Summit (December 2006) in Washington, D.C. The survey, Taking the Pulse of the Healthcare Blogosphere: A global online survey of healthcare bloggers, is freely available for download.

The survey population was bloggers devoting at least 30% of posts on their blog to healthcare; a total of 214 healthcare bloggers took at least part of the poll, with 171 answering every question in the survey. Respondents were evenly split between men (54%) and women (46%), with 76% of bloggers originating from the U.S. and 3% to 5% from Canada, the U.K., Australia and the Netherlands.

With respect to trust and credibility, just over half (53%) of respondents believe that between 41% to 80% of healthcare blogs are written by people whose statements they take at face value [2]. More than three quarters (77%) of respondents have either a low or moderate level of trust in their blogging colleagues. Perhaps not surprisingly, heathcare bloggers are critical of fellow bloggers’ statements. Negative comments regarding trust and credibility revolved around lack of mainstream representation, overt sarcasm and bias, and recycled information without original input. Positive comments tended to focus more on insight and quality of writing.

Indeed, some bloggers like Yehuda have called for a “Bloggers Code of Ethics”. This is different than the “Bloggers Code of Conduct” proposed by Tim O’Reily, in that it includes sections specifically on accuracy, attribution, completeness, and originality in addition to civility, fairness, respect, privacy, safety, confidentiality and copyright. A modular code has been suggested, allowing individual bloggers to choose a level of values that they want to assert.

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Another source, the Heath On the Net (HON) Foundation, is attempting to guide the growing community of healthcare providers and consumers on the World Wide Web to sound, reliable medical information and expertise through quality assessment and systematic and stringent peer review. The HON Foundation Code of Conduct (HONcode) addresses the issue of reliability and credibility of healthcare information found on the internet, and includes sections on Attribution and Justifiability.

In my opinion, when it comes to blogging about healthcare, trust and credibility are paramount. I question the reliability of blog sources for news. In fact, I even question more “factual” information from non-blog websites. This was one of my motivations for creating Highlight HEALTH. I wanted to create a health resource that provided evidence to support the information presented. For this reason, every article on Highlight HEALTH cites source material and provides references. In addition to articles I write discussing scientific results (the entries of which are maintained and updated when new data is published), Highlight HEALTH serves as a health news aggregator. In some cases I provide additional insight and commentary, and the site provides a forum for free discussion. You can read more about Highlight HEALTH on the about page.

The second Healthcare Blogging Summit will take place in Las Vegas, Nevada at the end of this month (April 30th, 2007) with an emphasis on the practical lessons that could be applied by healthcare professionals and organizations.

References

  1. Most Say Bloggers, Citizen Reporters to Play Vital Role in Journalism’s Future. Zogby Poll. February 13, 2007.
  2. Taking the Pulse of the Healthcare Blogosphere: A global online survey of healthcare bloggers. Envision Solutions, LLC and The Medical Blog Network. December 2006.