The Medical Blogosphere and the State of Healthcare Blogging

Reading time: 4 – 6 minutes

Healthcare Vox published an article earlier this week entitled “Is the Medical Blogosphere Dying?”, commenting on the number of well-known medical bloggers leaving the blogosphere. Although I don’t think the medical blogosphere is dying, recent events have been a catalyst for change and it’s definitely undergoing a transformation.

The Blog That Ate Manhattan agrees, saying “I for one do not think that the medical blog is an endangered species”. The article shares some thoughts on medical blogging and some of the things learned over the past few months.

Dr. Dinosaur shares these thoughts:

“Sometimes several blogs disappear within a short span of time, leaving the erroneous impression that the events are somehow connected. The concern about “Who’s next?” isn’t all that different from the forty-five year old man with a neighbor and cousin who each dropped dead of heart attacks in the last two weeks. To the patient, it makes perfect sense to worry that the same thing could happen to him. It’s much easier to see coincidence for what it is when we can take a step back and re-connect with reality.”

A number of healthcare bloggers have expressed their intent to apply for accreditation by the Health On the Net (HON) Foundation. As I’ve written in the past, the HONcode addresses the issue of reliability and credibility of healthcare information found on the internet. There are 8 principles to the HONcode, including sections on authority, privacy, attribution, justifiability and transparency. From the HONcode website:

“The HONcode is not an award system, nor does it intend to rate the quality of the information provided by a Web site. It only defines a set of rules to:
– hold Web site developers to basic ethical standards in the presentation of information;
– help make sure readers always know the source and the purpose of the data they are reading.”

Thus, the HONcode is designed to protect the reader. However, little is offered in the way of protection for the blogger. This isn’t surprising given that people didn’t blog back in 1996 when the HONcode was established. However, given recent events, that is the issue: protection for the anonymous medical blogger.

Liana over at Med Valley High places blogging “within the scope of narrative medicine”, maintaining that it’s a beneficial resource for patients. Dr. Val suggested something similar in her comments here on Highlight HEALTH recently, maintaining that parables are a legitimate teaching tool. The question is, how to communicate to the public that there are very strict rules regarding what doctors can and can’t say on a blog? Names are changed and details are blurred not to dodge privacy laws, but to comply with them. Scalpel reviewed the HIPAA section that he felt applies to medical bloggers and made the following conclusion:

I’m not certain that non-anonymous bloggers should present medical cases at all unless the cases are radically altered or very generalized. If it is known that a physician, nurse, or other healthcare worker practices at a certain facility, for example, then the second requirement [obtains individually identifiable health information relating to an individual] seems to be violated. Similarly, posts stating that a certain patient event occurred “last night” or “last week” seem to be in violation.

Given the recent bad press regarding doctors and blogging, I think he has valid concerns that should be addressed.

Dr. Rob over at Musings of a Distractible Mind has started some dialog on a code of ethics for medical bloggers, creating a new blog, the Medical Blog Code of Ethics, and proposing a draft code for healthcare bloggers. He says that:

While I like the idea of the HONcode (and am still working on becoming certified), I want something less aimed at medical content sites (sites that give advice to non-medical people) and more focused on medical bloggers (medical professionals and patients).

N=1 over at Universal Health gave the current draft a test run – check it out.

Hsien Lei of EyeOnDNA suggests that:

… we also need to look at promoting blogging as a legitimate platform which should be respected and not subject to anyone’s influence except the blogger’s own truth. As long as we are willing to stand behind our words, we should face no fear of repercussions.

Indeed, I couldn’t agree more. I encourage everyone to read the draft code over at Medical Blog Code of Ethics and contribute your thoughts.

About the Author

Walter Jessen, Ph.D. is a Data Scientist, Digital Biologist, and Knowledge Engineer. His primary focus is to build and support expert systems, including AI (artificial intelligence) and user-generated platforms, and to identify and develop methods to capture, organize, integrate, and make accessible company knowledge. His research interests include disease biology modeling and biomarker identification. He is also a Principal at Highlight Health Media, which publishes Highlight HEALTH, and lead writer at Highlight HEALTH.