Beyond the Buzz: 7 Reasons Healthcare Professionals Should Blog
"No medical social media strategy would be complete without a plan for a blog" ~ Dr Howard J. Luks, MD.
A blog (a truncation of the expression web log) is a discussion or informational site published on the World Wide Web and consisting of discrete entries ("posts") typically displayed in reverse chronological order (the most recent post appears first) Wikipedia definition.
Most blogs combine text, images, and links to other blogs, Web pages, and media related to its topic. They differ from static websites because they are more interactive - allowing for real-time comments and discussion - and (ideally) are updated with fresh content on a regular basis.
Healthcare blogs vary in content and style; they range from commentary on a topical issue to patients sharing the lived experience of a disease and healthcare professionals educating patients on the management of an illness. Blogs written by doctors, nurses, health researchers, patients, and healthcare and digital marketers and innovators add much to the richness and diversity of the online healthcare conversation. Many of these blogs are widely read and shared through social media, establishing their writers as authorities and go-to experts on a particular illness.
There are several ways that healthcare professionals can benefit from creating their own blogs. Below are some of the most important.
#1. Develops Clinical Reflective Writing Skills
Reflective capacity has been described as an essential characteristic of professionally competent clinical practice. Dr Prashini Naidoo describes reflective writing as “purposeful thinking about an experience through which learning takes place”. In addition to learning, Dr Rita Charon, Professor of Clinical Medicine and Director of the Program in Narrative Medicine at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons believes that “writing improves clinicians’ stores of empathy, reflection, and courage".
When I asked Dr Richard Cook, a UK-based GP who blogs as Dr Moderate, his reasons for blogging, he answered: "My blog prompted me to think more deeply about the everyday things I encounter at work". And Kentucky-based cardiac electrophysiologist, Dr John Mandrola credits blogging with making him a more informed doctor: "It is astounding how much I have learned in the quest to talk smartly about medical science. Without doubt, this blog has made me a more informed doctor".
#2. Provides Patient Education
When a patient is newly diagnosed with an illness, they will inevitably have many questions. It is most probable that many other patients have the same questions. Building a repository of information about these frequently asked questions is a valuable resource for patients and a time-saver for the physician who can easily refer patients to their blog. Dr Ronan Kavanagh, a rheumatologist based in Ireland, provides a good example of providing patient education on his blog.
#3. Establishes Your Expertise
Blogging can establish you as the go-to person in your field of expertise, increasing your credibility and online visibility. Dr Howard Luks, a Board-Certified Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Surgeon points to his post on whether or not a meniscus tear requires surgery as "the most valuable question I answer on my website and the greatest driver of traffic. Since I first posted the answer to that question in March of 2011, I have had more than 80,000 views on my website for that question alone and 235 comments".
#4. Increases Your Online Visbility
According to the latest Pew Research 72% of internet users say they looked online for health information within the past year with 77% of online health seekers using a search engine. Yet the majority of Internet users don’t scroll past the first page of search results. 35% of U.S. adults say that at one time or another they have gone online specifically to try to figure out what medical condition they or someone else might have. The most commonly-researched topics are specific diseases or conditions, treatments or procedures, and doctors or other health professionals. Google uses a variety of ranking factors in their algorithm and while some are controversial, evidence shows that good quality content with credible references and links and appropriate keywords on a regularly updated blog is a proven ranking factor.
#5. Creates A Community Of Change
Blogging can be a vehicle for change. Health and social care change agent, Mary Freer writes that she blogs "because I want to have a conversation with you about the way we can shape the health system. Not in some heroic way, but little by little, people joining together and determining that they will reveal who they are and what they really care about".
#6. Provides Opportunity To Learn From Patient Blogs
Family practitioner Dr Clive Brock believes that "patients have the best stories to learn with". Increasingly you will find those stories online in patient blogs. These blogs provide a rich repository of information about the lived experience of a disease. Patient advocate, Isabel Jordan of Canada's Rare Disease Foundation believes that "healthcare professionals can hear the unfiltered truth from patient blogs".
#7. Humanizes Your Practice
While it’s important to maintain ethical and professional standards online, it is still possible to share personal anecdotes from your own experiences practicing medicine or a particular patient case study (in compliance with HIPAA guidelines). Blogging also allows you to show the person behind the stethoscope. Dr Brian Stork is a Michigan-based urologist with a passion for bee-keeping which he shares about on his blog alongside more traditional health related topics.
If you are already a healthcare professional who blogs, I hope this article has made you reflect on your own blogging motivation. If you haven't started a blog yet but this article has piqued your interest, I will be sharing more tips and advice on starting and promoting a healthcare blog in the coming weeks. So stay tuned.
Marie Ennis-O’Connor B.A., M.I.A.P.R. is a PR and Social Media consultant, award-winning health blogger and international conference speaker with a passionate interest in the role of social media in healthcare. A keynote speaker on digital media strategy, Marie co-founded #BCCEU, Europe's first breast cancer social media chat and is a founding member of Health2.0 Dublin, part of the ...