Health in the Blogosphere: What They're Saying

Published on
November 13, 2009

After a lively and wide-ranging discussion at our Health in the Blogosphere event Monday, some attendees have posted insightful wrap-ups on their blogs. I'll also be posting these on Twitter at #uscblogcon.

Here's a sampling of their thoughts:

PalMD, who blogs at White Coat Underground, writes:

Blogging is a bottom-up phenomenon. You can't create bloggers, and you can't force bloggers to behave in a certain way, but you can attract them to blog collectives and offer them other resources. Health bloggers are often unaware of their ethical responsibilities. Existing in an in-between world, they feel free to behave as they wish.

Some will not be interested in changing, but others may be attracted to a system that allows them to understand their responsibilities as providers of content that can potentially harm others. Ethically-inclined health writers may self-select, eventually forming collectives via links, umbrella sites, or badges that connect providers of reliable content. Such systems could be available to both health journalists and bloggers who are health professionals.

Julie Cohen, a therapist who blogs at Links for Shrinks, wrote:

As the internet has become one of the main places that people get their health information, we as health bloggers have a responsibility to help breakdown life changing and life saving information. Anthony Iton, M.D., J.D., M.P.H. gave a poignant presentation: "Beyond Disease: Blogging on Obsticles to a Healthy Society." He stressed that we must not only blog about the conditions we treat but the environmental and social issues that prevent people from getting treatment.

One thing I learned from this framing session is that we do not blog in a vacuum. Our colleagues read us which keeps us accountable and our clients read us which obligates us to blog ethically.

Dr. Cynthia Haines, chief medical officer for HealthDay and blogger at The St. Louis Beacon, writes in this post:

Defining health blogging is difficult; even those in attendance could not settle on what makes a blog a blog. The concept and practice was referred to more than once as "The Wild, Wild West" because it is a relatively new concept, the mediums are relatively new, and those currently engaged are headed down unmarked trails. The topic of health is fraught with particularly polarizing and paralyzing pitfalls (e.g. HIPAA regulations and sensitive topics)...

Health blogging has reach and influence that has only just begun. And "you must fish where the fish are," said Mary Lou Fulton, program officer for the California Endowment. Go where people are accessing their information, "to provide communication where it is going to be received and heard."

And representing public health professionals, Andre Blackman of Pulse + Signal writes:

There is no getting around it – the way we receive news, what constitutes as news and reporting methods have all changed over the past few years. The 2.0 world isn't just about having news republished and formatted online, but it's about making content relevant for the people who are being informed.

Throughout the day we discussed the importance of persuasive writing in health journalism and how storytelling creates genuine impact. Other topics included information accuracy/fact checking, transparency, translating medical information into layman's terms and creating a system of standards to reduce sensationalism.

I would have to say that one of the main highlights for me was meeting the distinguished Dr. Tony Iton, former Director of the Alameda County Health Department and now Senior Vice President of Healthy Communities for The California Endowment's California Living 2.0 Initiative. I never realized the amount of data that a death certificate gave until Dr. Iton pointed it out – cause of death, age, race and where they lived. Based on these points, he laid down fantastic insight on the elusive phenomenon of length of life being tied up in poverty, barriers to opportunity (good housing, education, etc.) and the location of where people live.

Am I missing any othe wrap-ups or analysis from our attendees? Let me know in the comments below. You need to be a registered member of Center for Health Journalism Digital to leave a comment, so if you haven't joined yet, click here. It's easy, quick and free. You can follow ReportingonHealth on Twitter, too, @ReportingHealth.