My second interview is with Hsien-Hsien Lei, PhD. Dr. Lei writes a number of blogs, including Genetics and Health and A Hearty Life. She is also editor of the science and health and the family and relationships channels for b5media, a global blogging network. Click here to read my first interview with John Cass.
Q: What are some of the major reasons you think patients, providers and others read healthcare blogs?
A: With the Internet, everyone is constantly on the lookout for more information. For patients (and all of us are patients at one time or other), it’s critical that they gather as much information as possible to become an active participant in the care they receive. Blogs are one of the fastest, easiest, and most entertaining ways to learn more about health and medicine.
As for providers and other medical professionals, blogs have proven to be a fantastic way to network and learn more from people who we’d otherwise never meet except maybe once a year at annual meetings. And, blogging is also a great way to share experiences so that none of us feel alone in our quest to provide quality healthcare while dealing with some common frustrations.
Q: What are the major benefits of blogging for healthcare experts (epidemiologists, consultants, etc.)?
A: In my experience, blogs are still a tough sell to the majority of healthcare experts especially clinicians and academic scientists. Many do not spend much time on the Internet and don’t trust the information provided. But it is critically important that we all learn to harness the power of blogging and the Internet at large because people are spending more and more time online looking for information, especially about health and disease.
If those of us who are qualified to give the information aren’t there, you can bet there are plenty of charlatans who are more than happy to take our place. Blogging is an especially useful medium because it’s a two-way conversation between the experts and their readers where both sides can learn from the other.
If I had to give three reasons for why healthcare experts should blog, they would be:
1. To educate.
2. To communicate.
3. To understand.
Q: What role do you think blog networks will play in the evolution of the healthcare blogosphere?
A: The quality of blog networks vary greatly and even within a network, the quality of individual blogs vary. As the Science and Health Editor of b5media.com, I believe the strength of blog networks is our ability to harness the collective knowledge of the entire network to make each blog the best that it can be. This means that while readers aren’t going to find every single healthcare topic under the sun at b5media, they will definitely find quality, trustworthy information with a personal touch. b5 Science and Health bloggers like to remind ourselves of the 3 P’s (can you tell three is my favorite number?) – Personality, Passion, and Persistence.
Q: From your perspective what are the major benefits and drawbacks of blogs for healthcare organizations, specifically hospitals, academic institutions and drug makers?
A: I’ll assume we’re talking about blogs that are for public view rather than internal blogs.
Blogs are a great way for healthcare organizations to keep everyone up-to-date on the latest developments. Using blogs, they can also solicit feedback in an informal, open, and more friendly way than asking people to email or snail mail.
That said, I don’t think many healthcare organizations are prepared to write the kind of blogs that appear to be popular with the general readership. Unless you’re particularly dedicated to the organization, few will visit corporate blogs on a regular basis so it is key for organizations who are thinking of using blogs as a part of their public relations strategy to do their homework and examine what it is that makes a blog work. If they plan to hire a professional blogger, they’ve got to give that person as much access to information and staff as they can. And, key personnel must visit the company blogs regularly to address any issues that arise in the comments.
Q: If a healthcare organization were to ask you how to engage the blogosphere, what would be your advice?
A: Primarily, I believe blogs should be a place where people come for information. It shouldn’t be just another avenue for pushing products on people. If I were to write a blog for a healthcare organization, I would:
1. Regularly feature staff members who can put a personal face on the organization.
2. Highlight unique features of the healthcare organization that competitors don’t have.
3. Engage the potential audience of the blog by asking for feedback in a friendly, open manner.
4. Participate in the healthcare blogging community to gain visibility on the Web.
5. Produce high-quality content that seeks to educate and provide helpful information.
Anyone want to hire me?
Q: What are your tips for individual healthcare bloggers seeking to start and sustain a top-notch healthcare blog?
A: The same tips for successful blogging apply to healthcare bloggers just as they would for other bloggers, such as regular posting of original content, having an opinion or personal perspective, and interacting with the blogging community. (I’d recommend reading Darren Rowse’s ProBlogger.net blog for useful tips.)
Healthcare bloggers do need to be especially careful in the matter of ethics. Most importantly, they should not make any bold claims that they can’t back up, such as touting unconventional medical treatment. Also, they should be upfront and fully disclose their affiliations with sponsors and any other conflicts of interest. They should also make it clear to their readers what their credentials are so that readers understand their approach.
Q: I’ve noticed that your blogs comply with HONCode standards for trustworthy healthcare information. What are your thoughts about accreditation and should all healthcare bloggers seek it?
A: Thanks for noticing that! I’m very proud of my HONCode accreditation. In my opinion, all health blogs that address specific illnesses, such as cancer or heart disease, and have information on the latest medical treatments and research should be accredited. There’s no guarantee that an HONCode seal makes a blog 100% accurate (because all bloggers make mistakes once in a while), but it does hold the blogs to an ethical standard which we must strive to maintain.
If anyone is interested in being accredited by HONCode, I recommend answering the 10 questions posed by The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. They’re posted at Genetics and Health.
Once you’ve answered them on your blog, send me the link (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll add you to the Genetics and Health Honor Roll. You’ll find that applying to HONCode is a cinch if you’ve answered these 10 questions and have the answers displayed on your blog.
Q: What are your thoughts on the future of healthcare blogs?
A: I sincerely hope that blogs will continue for years to come but, most likely, there will be new technologies developed that will probably change the face of blogs if not the spirit. What I believe will not change is everyone’s desire to critically examine healthcare developments and have an uncensored, public place to speak their mind. Healthcare is changing not least because we have seized the power to change it using blogs and the information they convey.