The population of blogs on the Internet has recently exploded. In case the term is unfamiliar, "blog" is short for "weblog," a sequential collection of text and pictures posted on a website.
According to Technorati, a blog-monitoring service, in July 2005, there were 14 million blogs in existence and this number is doubling every 5.5 months. Put another way, approximately one new blog is created every second.
"Anyone Can Create One"
This unexpected and rapid growth is related to the most important feature of blogs: anyone can create one. Free services like Google's Blogger make this new form of publishing accessible to anyone with an Internet connection and the desire to share their writing. On Blogger and other services, step-by-step instructions are provided, and it is assumed that most users have no prior experience in creating websites.
A search of blogs can uncover discussions on almost any topic imaginable. Blogs on politics, entertainment, and technology as well as others that are personal journals are common. Most blogs also allow readers to comment on each entry, encouraging discussion and feedback.
A growing number of patients, physicians, and other healthcare professionals have also created blogs. Busy people take the time to write blogs for many reasons. For some patients, they may provide a place to anonymously discuss medical issues, record their experiences, and interact with others with similar problems. In this way, a blog can simultaneously function as a journal, a support group, and a forum for questions and answers.
For physicians and other healthcare professionals, blogs provide a place for writings rarely found in medical journals. Providers may use blogs to write about personal experiences, editorialize on problems encountered in practice, voice opinions, ask for advice, and tell important stories. Blogs may also serve as forums for debates on policies, politics, ethics, and other issues related to practice.
Many variations in content are possible. For example, some professionals choose to use blogs to comment on recent health news or scientific advances, and others may use them to help publicize their practice, consulting services, or publications.
Blogs also allow patients and healthcare providers to easily read the other's writings on medical issues. Potentially, each may benefit from the other's unique perspectives and insights.
Accuracy and Patient Confidentiality
For health care professionals who are bloggers, accuracy and patient confidentiality are very important. Medical bloggers should maintain the same standards of professionalism in online communication as they would with other forms of public expression. Ideally, all information on medical topics should be accurate, authoritative, and sources should be cited when appropriate.
Often, medical bloggers may write about cases and common situations encountered in practice. While case presentations are a vital part of medical communication, care should be taken to maintain patient confidentiality. Protected health identifiers, as defined by the HIPAA privacy law, should always be removed from presentations. Further information on patient confidentiality may be found on the HIPAA blog and the Clinical Cases and Images Blog .
Some medical professionals may also choose to have their blogs formally certified by the Health on the Net Foundation, which provides accreditation to websites which maintain high standards of accuracy and confidentiality. More information may be found on the Health on the Net Foundation website.
The best way to learn about blogs is to read them. There are many excellent blogs out there. If you're interested in exploring the world of blogs (also known as the blogosphere), the following websites are good places to start.
- Medlogs (www.medlogs.com). A collection of links to many medical blogs on one website.
- Technorati (www.technorati.com). A search engine for blogs.
- Clinical Cases and Images (www.casesblog.blogspot.com). Medical commentary and clinical cases by physicians at Case Western Reserve University.
- Code Blog (www.codeblog.com). Stories from a nurse.
- Kevin, MD (www.kevinmd.com/blog). Frequently updated medical news and commentary by an internist.
- KidneyNotes (www.kidneynotes.com). Notes on medicine, science, and technology by a nephrologist.
- Medgadget (www.medgadget.com). Reports on new technologies by a group of physicians.
- Shrinkette (www.shrinkette.blogspot.com). Commentary by a psychiatrist.
- Fearful Symmetry (www.livejournal.com/users/sebab). From a composer and hemodialysis patient who recently received a kidney and pancreas transplant.
- Ghetto River Nymph (www.rivernymph.blogspot.com). Created by a patient with syringomyelia.
- Nathan's Polycystic Kidney Disease (www.nmccart.blogspot.com). The blog of a patient with polycystic kidney disease who recently started hemodialysis.
- The Organ Trail (www.organtrail.blogspot.com). From a peritoneal dialysis patient who switched to hemodialysis and is awaiting a transplant.
- Terie and Ger's Transplant Adventure (www.transplantteriedonorger.blogspot.com). A blog by a kidney and liver transplant recipient and her donor, both nurses.