site stats
Welcome, register | help | log in

Contrasting Personal vs. Professional Uses of Social Media: The Case of Healthcare Blogging

Featured in:

Where is the boundary between personal and professional use of the Internet? What does this mean for healthcare social media?

I was planning to write a post on the differences in "personal vs. professional" uses of blogs and social media for a while, but wanted to wait for some good material to analyze before hitting the "Publish" button.

The recent study in Journal of General Internal Medicine, called Content of Weblogs Written by Health Professionals (full-text PDF hosted by Pharmalot), looks at habits of an "average" medical blogger and tries very hard to paint them in a negative light, questioning their "professionalism".

This sets the stage for drawing personal vs. professional contrast:

Firstly, let me offer some definitions to make it easier:

  1. Professional blogger: One of the few who are "blogging for dollars", derive direct income or have blogging in official job description. Think journalists, network bloggers or communication professionals.
  2. Blogging professional: Professional (healthcare or otherwise) who blog to support their reputation and career pursuits, not generating direct income. Think vendors and consultants promoting their warez.
  3. Personal blogger: Anyone who blogs without a business purpose. They do it to satisfy the various needs for self-expression. Think of medical student diaries or MySpace pictures posted by your teenage niece.

Of course, this division is not strict. A lot of people start blogging as personal hobby and then discover professional opportunities. Many who start blogging for professional reasons, look for ways to inject more personality in their writing to attract and retain audience. But every blog has one primary motivation.

Therein is the problem with what we know as "healthcare blogging"

The vast majority of healthcare blogs are personal in motivation, with business interests being secondary. When a personal blog is written by a healthcare professional this of course raises the issues of how does "baring of their souls" square off with a proper "professional persona". To quote the study:

Results: We identified 271 medical blogs. Over half (56.8%) of blog authors provided sufficient information in text or image to reveal their identities. Individual patients were described in 114 (42.1%) blogs. Patients were portrayed positively in 43 blogs (15.9%) and negatively in 48 blogs (17.7%). Of blogs that described interactions with individual patients, 45 (16.6%) included sufficient information for patients to identify their doctors or themselves. Three blogs showed recognizable photographic images of patients. Healthcare products were promoted, either by images or descriptions, in 31 (11.4%) blogs. 
Conclusions: Blogs are a growing part of the public face of the health professions. They offer physicians and nurses the opportunity to share their narratives. They also risk revealing confidential information or, in their tone or content, risk reflecting poorly on the blog authors and their professions. The health professions should assume some responsibility for helping authors and readers negotiate these challenges.

If anything, the conclusion shows that the primary motivation of most healthcare blogs is personal at the core. If you see your blog squarely as a professional representation of yourself and your profession, chances are you would not risk doing anything alleged in study conclusion. BUT, consider that one of the most popular topics of healthcare professionals is to vent their frustration with the system. This is a very personal activity, even though it has professional context.

Predictably, medical bloggers did not like the study a single bit

There is some excellent commentary and links over at Clinical Cases and Images, as well as Note from Dr. RW. going into finer details of what med bloggers think of top-down efforts to "impose professionalism". Quoting RW:

The paper covered other aspects of professionalism besides confidentiality. From the conclusion of the abstract (italics mine):

They also risk revealing confidential information or, in their tone or content, risk reflecting poorly on the blog authors and their professions.

(Translation: They show their human side). More from the conclusion:

The health professions should assume some responsibility for helping authors and readers negotiate these challenges.

(Translation: Look out for the Thought Police and their agenda to sanitize our blogs). Finally, from the discussion section:

Physician-leaders and medical educators should consider curricular development and educational forums that address the challenges, opportunities and responsibilities that medical blog authors face, and the place of this new medium within norms of medical professionalism.

The norms of medical professionalism these days are increasingly defined based on public perception. Conformity of medical blogs to a sanitized notion of physicians runs counter to an essential purpose of blogging, articulated more than once by Kevin MD: “The whole purpose of blogging is to be open and pull back the curtain to talk about how it really is…”

Despite the study, do not expect much change in health blog dynamics

Even if professional groups adopt policies regulating blogging activities of their members! Expect anonymous bloggres to continue blogging anonymously (including to mock these policies). Expect personal blogs of identified healthcare professionals to evolve towards less controversy, rather than go away.

Less unlikely to change in the near future is the fact that the primary motivation of online activity by healthcare professionals is still personal... Given how much time participation in social media can consume, purely business and professional applications will need to produce some serious $$$ to catch on.

Until then, this Facebook Group explains all you need to know: I'm a doctor and I hope my patients don't see me on facebook....

Trackbacks (1)

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:
from O'Reilly Radar on Mon, 07/27/2009 - 9:11am

In a recent CSPAN interview, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs noted that, “for some reason, Twitter is blocked on White House computers,” which created a minor frenzy among tech-savvy journalists ranging from UPI to The Hill. Later, news ...

Comments (2)

Submitted by Jim Farrell (not verified) on Fri, 09/12/2008 - 10:42am.

Very interesting article. I just did a post on "Social Media For Health Care Professionals". Doctors are also participating in Twitter, YouTube, etc and I did notice (ask you stated) most were to increase reputation and add credibilty. I love to know your opinion on my post.

Thanks so much,


Submitted by TubesTime (not verified) on Sun, 01/16/2011 - 1:26am.

Interesting analysis. I liked that healthcare products were promoted only by 11% of blogs. It means that we can read blogs and be not afraid that it is not true but is written just to promote anything.

Copyright © 2005-2016, Trusted.MD Network, Trusted.MD Privacy Policy, UBM Medica Network Privacy Policy

User login