Your gyn practice decides to publish an electronic newsletter for patients. You and your office manager spend a lot of time deciding on a format and writing content that you think is relevant to your patients. Everyone in the office agrees: It looks great.
But there’s a problem.
After your newsletter has been “live” for 6 months, fewer than 5% of your patients have signed up to receive it by e-mail (even though you’re sure that a lot more of them are on-line).
You’re perplexed: Why the poor response? The newsletter contains important information that your patients have told you they want—answers to the same questions that you get asked day in, day out.
Why does everyone seem so interested in getting answers to their questions when they’re in the office but not ahead of time and without a co-pay?
The diagnosis: Newsletters are so 1990s.
Offering a Web-savvy patient a newsletter is like presenting her with a VHS tape of a surgical procedure you’re recommending. She will look at you and think, “Huh?”
It’s not that your patients don’t want health information—they are clearly eager for it: 80% of Americans who have Internet access look for health information on-line.1 The quest for health information is the third most popular on-line activity (behind e-mail and using a search engine), and women are more likely to search for health information on-line than men are.2 Nineteen percent of all Internet users search on-line for information about pregnancy and childbirth, and on WebMD (www.webmd.com, the second most popular Internet health site), hysterectomy was the fifth most commonly searched treatment in 2010.1
But getting health information from the Internet today does not mean another e-mail message in the in-box, where it sits waiting to be read or, more likely, deleted without having been opened. For most patients, looking for health information on-line entails 1) general searches (via Google, for example) for symptoms, specific diagnoses, or therapies or 2) searches on specific health-related Web sites (the top two for traffic in November 2010 were the National Institutes of Health and WebMD).1,3
More and more patients, however, are craving a dialogue about their health; 40% of on-line health-related activities involve interactive, user-generated content of social media, the most popular sources being Facebook, Twitter, and the Web-site tool known as blogs that I discuss in this article—with the aim of helping you determine whether placing your professional voice on the Web in a blog is workable, valuable, and respectable.1,3,4
Blog (noun, singular); blogs (plural)
What is it? A shortened form of “web log.” Has a different functional meaning for different people: A journal. A place to rant. A collaborative archive. A source of breaking news.
Whatever shape a blog takes, at its core it is an ongoing chronicle of information plus opinion. For a medical blog, that description typically refers to the perspective of the consumer/patient or the health-care professional who writes the “posts,” or entries.
The Web has thousands upon thousands of medical blogs. Some support an academic institution or a government agency (even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a blog); many describe the experiences of an individual with one or another aspect of health care (from a patient’s or provider’s perspective). With one third of Americans reading blogs, they are an excellent way to disseminate information.1,3,4
Here are what I consider several good reasons to start a medical blog—reasons that, in part, motivated me to begin blogging (see “Why I blog,”):
- A blog is an ideal platform to deliver content to your patients and like-minded medical professionals. A blog allows your patients (and everyone else) to see information that you think is valuable and to hear your opinion on important health topics. Patients really like to know what their physician’s opinion is—how many times have you been asked, in the office, “What do you think I should do, doctor?”
- Blogging is good advertising for your practice. Your blog will appear in Web-search results, which may lead new patients to your doorstep. Reporters and other media workers troll the Web, fact-checking and looking for “angles” for news stories; you may be called to give your opinion about something you blogged about. Remember: Being mentioned in the local newspaper is free advertising (yes, people still read newspapers, though often on-line); ask the reporter to include a link to your blog in any story in which you’re quoted.
- Blogging helps you learn from your readers. Given the interactive nature of a blog (comments are encouraged), you might find feedback that is interesting at the least, possibly educational. Many people take commenting on blogs very seriously, and often post valuable links to other content.
- Contributing credible content drowns out garbage medical information that circulates widely on-line. The Internet is a powerhouse repository of medical knowledge, but it’s only as good as the content provided to it; in fact, 65% of Web pages contain inaccurate medical information.6 Regrettably, most people do not verify the medical information they find on-line.
- Blogging helps keep you relevant. Medicine is still trying to figure out how to best integrate itself with the user-centered operation and experience of Web 2.0. If you aren’t engaged here on some level, you risk being left behind.