A Doctor’s Prescription for Social Media – Part 2

This is the second post in the series “A doctor’s prescription for social media.”  The first post can be found here.

As an experiment,  I immersed myself in social media for the past three months.   Within this short period of time, I reaped tangible benefits.  In addition, social media has changed the way that I think about and practice medicine.

I presented the results of my experiment in social media as a Rheumatology Grand Rounds lecture at my hospital.  I argued that leveraging social media will make us better physicians.  Some in the audience were skeptical, others asked me for a written guide on how to start.  This is that guide.

This post is the second in a series about how physicians should use social media.  In my first post, I reviewed a brief history of social media, and described how I used Twitter to educate myself and others about rheumatologic conditions.  The post you are now reading will review the use of blogs in medicine.  Future posts will discuss other social media platforms, such as  Facebook, LinkedIn, Doximity, and the importance of the “online reputation.”

After reading this guide, I suggest that you conduct your own experiment in social media, just like I did, and let me know what you think…Godspeed!

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BLOGS:

With over 100,000 new blogs created every day, it was a daunting task to even think about creating my own.  How could I add value to the web?  What meaningful and interesting articles could I produce that haven’t already been written?   Estimates suggest that there are over 150 million blogs worldwide.  WordPress, the most popular blogging platform, has over 77 million active blogs, with over one million new posts added every day.   With so much information already on the internet, why would anyone try to take the leap into blogging?

I also felt uncomfortable putting my thoughts and opinions online for everyone to see.  What if people disagree with me?  What if I make a mistake?  Dr. Bryan Vartabedian, who writes one of the most popular physician blogs, captures this new reality well:

“The capacity to be public really amplifies the fact that we all have passions, missions and roles in the world.  Being front and center with a footprint and identity forces us to think about where we fit in the world.  It was easy to be elusive when the world was private and our existence was restricted to an exam room.  But now we’re part of a wide-open, networked world.  This capacity to share and create exposes us for who we are and what we believe in.  Being here is an act of intimacy. Participation is something that many of us just aren’t prepared for.”

Just like everything else we do in medicine, I followed the command of “see one, do one, teach one.”   I began by reading a lot of blogs.  A “blog,” I learned, is a new word combining the words “web log.”  It is a website created to share your views with the world.  Unlike a static website, blogs tend to be updated frequently with new articles, pictures, figures, videos, and links.  A blog, in a sense, can work as your very own publishing company.  But I believe that blogging is better.  Unlike traditional publishing, blogs allow readers to comment on your articles, and these comments are available for others to see.  The reader becomes a writer and an active participant in an online discussion.  For example, if a physician reads your article, they could add useful information that you may have missed.  Patients can add their personal experiences about a topic you’re discussing.  Unlike peer-reviewed journal articles, which up to now have been the “gold standard” through which we communicate with our colleagues, modern blogs allow meaningful, real-time conversations to take place.

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But don’t just take my word for it.  A recent Nature editorial encouraged blogging as a way to promote dialogue between scientists.   Blogging may also be good for your career, especially as a way to let others know about your projects.  In fact, an article published in a blog it will likely reach a wider audience than one published with traditional methods, especially in light of the evidence that as many as 50% of scientific papers aren’t read by more than three people!  Research in the field of economics has also found that academic papers that are cited in blogs are more likely to be downloaded than those that aren’t, and that economists that blog are regarded more highly than those that don’t, even with the same publishing record.

There are many other reasons why physicians create their own blogs.  Some physicians provide their patients with a repository of information about their disease.  Instead of having patients wonder aimlessly through the internet trying to find accurate information, physicians can refer patients to their own blog for answers.   Over time, a blog can become a rich repository of articles about a wide variety of topics.    Physicians can also include links to other useful sites which they they think provide valuable, reliable information.

Some physicians have also explored with other types of multimedia to provide information to their patients.  For example, in addition to having a traditional blog, Dr. Kavanagh, has created a repository of videos discussing the use and complications of various commonly-used medications in rheumatology.

But blogs don’t need to be exclusive to medical conditions.  Some physicians use blogging to discuss issues with healthcare systems, the intersection of technology and medicine, art, literature…you name it!   If you have a specific interest and enjoy writing about that topic, it is likely that others will share you enthusiasm.

In addition to blogs written by individual physicians, there are several large blogging websites that post articles by several physicians.  KevinMD is one such site, probably the largest physician blog in the world.  Over 1000 patients and physicians (including me) have contributed articles to the blog, and the website gets updated several times daily.  Another popular blog is Academic Life in Emergency Medicine, which provides an innovative approach to emergency medicine medical education .  Finally, Renal Fellow Network provides nephrologists with a forum to discuss interesting cases, scientific papers, and other relevant topics,  written by fellows and attendings from the US and UK.

Finally, there are blogs-of-blogs, or as I like to call them, “meta-blogs,” in which physicians curate interesting articles from all over the internet (blogs, newspapers, journals), and put them together in one easily accessible place.   If you are interested in rheumatology, you should check out Dr. Carlo Caballero’s Rheumatology 2.0.

About half a million people read blogs on a regular basis.  Take a look around and find a blog you like online.   Feel free to comment and take part in one of those online conversations.  A broad list of medical blogs can be found here.

You may still be asking yourself: why would any physician, who is already overworked and often underpaid, want to spend hours online creating free content for people to read?  Let me tell you some additional reasons why I have started blogging:

1. Writing helps to solidify my thinking
2. Improves my writing skills
3. Medical education: teach others about autoinflammatory and other rheumatic diseases
4. Forces me to stay up to date with the medical literature
5. Interact with patients with rheumatic illnesses
6. Collaborate with colleagues with similar interests
7. Communicate my interests in autoinflammatory diseases with patients and colleagues

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Have I convinced you yet?  Are you now interested in starting your own blog?  It’s easy!  WordPress, Blogger (owned by Google), and Tumblr are some of the largest and best well-known sites.  Best of all, they’re free!  The free version of these platforms will give you a website name such as mywebsite.wordpress.com or mywebsite.blogspot.com.  You can pay a small yearly fee to create your blog under a new name such as mywebsite.com (as long as the name isn’t already taken).  Both WordPress and Blogger are remarkably easy to use, even for people (like me) who don’t have a background in computer programming.  In addition, since these blogging platforms are extremely popular, it is easy to find answers to all of your questions online.  For example, Dr. Paul Sufka, another blogging rheumatologist, has written a great guide to optimize your WordPress blog.

If you read this article and checked out my blog, you have “seen one.” Now it’s up to you to “do one.”

This article was my effort to “teach one.”

 

Please subscribe to my blog to receive notification for the publication of Part 3 of my series “A doctor’s prescription for social media,” in which I’ll discuss various social networking sites such as Doximity, as well as the “online reputation.”  

 

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