With 47 percent of all hospitals maintaining a blog, this channel of communication is becoming more popular in the healthcare industry as a way to meet patients’ voracious appetite for health-related information.
Physicians and other medical professionals are using their knowledge to boost their visibility and spread the word about common conditions, and even not so common ones. There is a wide range of healthcare blogs—from doctor blogs to blogs about living with specific conditions—that cater to just about everyone’s individual needs and interests.
This diverse mix of author types raises questions about whether a blog is a credible source for providing medical opinions. Some authors use a pen name, while others provide extensive biographies that include their place of employment. Some blogs do not include any author information whatsoever.
With so many people writing about healthcare, should these blogs have bylines?
Let’s take a look at what putting a name with a post does, how it builds credibility, and why anything posted on a medical blog should not replace seeking actual medical attention when necessary.
Most doctors begin blogging to market their services and help their practice stand out among the competition. It’s a great way to connect with patients and build a community outlet to discuss conditions.
When a doctor writes a blog, it adds to the credibility of the resource because doctors can use their professional knowledge to discuss an issue and provide advice for what to do about that issue.
Doctors and other medical professionals who blog should include not only their name and credentials (oncologist, M.D., Ph.D), but also information on their place of employment to further the credibility that they are in fact licensed and actively practicing medical personnel. When it comes to establishing credibility, transparency is key.
Doctor David’s blog is a relatively informal blog by Dr. David Loeb of John Hopkins’ Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center. He offers a candid take on pediatric oncology, cancer research and treatment, and the latest in medical news.
Likewise, others who blog about conditions they live with, or about issues such as healthcare policy also should be transparent and honest about their symptoms or opinions. While these types of blogs do not necessarily require the author to disclose his or her name, using a pen name is a good way for them to identify with their audience who consistently read their posts.
Because they attach their name to their writing, it is a smart move for medical professionals to also include a disclaimer to protect themselves and their employers from any liabilities.
Disclaimers are particularly helpful for doctors and other medical professionals who blog to let readers know their posts should not be substituted for seeing a doctor when necessary. It is a simple way of stating their opinions are their own and that any information concerning a specific condition may not apply to everyone.
This blog post written by Dr. Margaret Polaneczky illustrates why a disclaimer is needed and her rationale for doctors having them to make it clear the information she was offering was the advice she was giving her patients, but not necessarily her readers and that they should seek ultimate approval with their own physicians before making a decision.
While it is not likely for someone who is choking to turn to your blog for help rather than 911, as Bryan Vartabedian has stated, it doesn’t hurt to be protected.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 restricts what information healthcare bloggers can share. HIPAA laws protect patient information; bloggers do not want to risk their careers over a post. This also includes social media, which has gotten many healthcare employees fired for posting confidential information online.
The No. 1 way to avoid violating HIPAA is to never disclose any information that could identify a patient in any way—this includes name, height, weight, eye color or discussing a situation that could allow others reading the post to identify who the post is about.
Also, err on the side of caution. If something sounds too personal to a particular patient and you are not sure, it’s best not to post about that topic. When choosing examples, keep in mind that writing can be used in malpractice suits.
Healthcare blogging is a great way to start conversations about a variety of topics, bring people together with like experiences and provide some comfort that there is a community out there facing similar issues to assure individuals they are not alone.
But healthcare bloggers must be careful, especially if they are credentialed professionals, about what they say and should back their blog with a disclaimer.