Physician: "I think it's time to put the blogging down"

My good Twitter friend, and probably the most famous orthopedic surgeon using social media, @hjluks recently wrote: "Think it's time to put the blogging down...."

Is it time? Does blogging still have some place in the busy day of a practicing physician?

It really depends on what you use the blogging for. Here are just three examples:

- My blogs are my personal archive. I often post brief summaries of interesting articles with my personal comments. When I need to retrieve those during discussions with residents, students or patients, finding them is just a click away by using the custom search engine of the blog. Depending on the purpose of your blogs, the readership size and engagement often do not matter that much. For example, I have blogs that almost no one reads (my gardening blog) but I still post there and find them useful.

- Sometimes you need to point your Twitter/Facebook followers to a longer form explanation on a topic or a controversial issue. Blogs work well for that. A cardiologist was misunderstood by an e-patient recently. It took a 1,000-word blog post for him to explain what he really meant.

- You can create a practice website using blogging software. For example, FAQs for a physician practice can be hosted on a blog. Facebook and Twitter are disorganized and not easily searchable, and not everyone has the patience to watch videos to find (or miss) the answer to their question at the end.

Reasons to stop blogging

I know medical bloggers who stopped blogging or closed their Twitter accounts for similar reasons to those summarized below:

"He says in his final blog post that while he intended the personal blog to be a place where he could talk about ideas, his posts had started to “spark whole conversations that I never intended to start in the first place, conversations that leech precious time and energy while contributing precious little back.”

More related thoughts:

"So many things can go wrong (with social media) if you don’t do it right. You can get stampeded and lose the game. Playing on the sidelines is more appealing.

If you run a hospital and decide to establish a vast living presence on the Web, people will say bad things about your doctors, your nurses, your waiting times in the ER, your food. You’ll have to deal with HIPAA. There’s also a chance that you’ll say something you’ll regret. Playing on the sidelines is more appealing."

On the other hand, consider this:

Duty calls. Image source:, Creative Commons license.

See a perfect example why you must read medical blogs in this post by a practicing electrophysiologist: The first 4 months of a new era - anticoagulation with dabigatran. You can't find this first-hand real-life experience in any textbook or medical journal.

6 Reasons Why Doctors Blog

Here are the 6 Reasons Why Doctors Blog, according to Dr. John M., a cardiologist and electrophysiologist:

Here are the top six reasons why I and other doctors choose to author medical blogs:

1. The Practice of Medicine inspires
2. To educate
3. To better mankind
4. To give a look behind the curtain
5. To archive useful information
6. To display our humanness

My comment is here:

Thank you for the wonderful post and sharing insights, John.

Blogging "To better mankind" is beyond reach for me, I think. However, I hope that my blogs helped "To educate" at least some of the readers who flipped through more than 8 million pages since 2005...

Doctors are highly-qualified experts who limit their impact only to patients they see - if they don't publish, give lectures - and blog. In most cases, benefits far outweigh the risk and doctors should be encouraged to at least give it a try.

I tried to describe a practical and time-efficient approach here:

Social media in medicine: How to be a Twitter superstar and help your patients and your practice

Blogging also keeps you grounded and humble. Critical comments prompt you to back your clinical opinion, expressed in a blog post, with solid scientific references and that's a good thing.

This is a suggested Cycle of Patient Education (click here to enlarge the image):

A here is the suggested Cycle of Online Information and Physician Education (click here to enlarge the image):

The two cycles work together as two interlocking cogwheels. Here is how to facilitate the Rise of the ePhysican who works hand in hand with the ePatient:

Why you should start blogging

Quotes from an interview with Seth Godin and Tom Peters:

"Blogging is free. It doesn’t matter if anyone reads it. What matters is the humility that comes from writing it. What matters is the metacognition of thinking about what you’re going to say.

No single thing in the last 15 years professionally has been more important to my life than blogging. It has changed my life, it has changed my perspective, it has changed my intellectual outlook, it’s changed my emotional outlook.

And it’s free."

Don't limit yourself to your blog - use Facebook and Twitter

Blogging can be great for personal growth but there is a lot more interaction on Twitter and Facebook nowadays as compared to blogs. If you have a blog, you must also have a Facebook "like" page (previously called "fan" page) and a Twitter account. These serve the dual purpose of distribution and commenting channels ("two-way street").

For example, Facebook pages get a lot more interaction than blogs for some medical journals - you can count the comments on the NEJM Facebook updates (the range is 9-180) vs. their blog (0). The blog has comments enabled, of course.

Facebook is the clear "winner" in terms of commenting activity, it is not even close:

NEJM Facebook page vs. NEJM blog

What is the oldest medical blog?

I have maintained medical blogs since 2004 but never thought about blog anniversaries - blogging seems such a mundane task of daily life.

What is the "life expectancy" of a medical blog?

The studies are ongoing but the current record is around 8-10 years...

In the medical blogging world, the physician bloggers who produce high volume of original content often quit after 1-2 years. There is too much to handle. Medical blogging is a difficult task that requires a lot of time and mental energy (scientific accuracy, HIPAA compliance, ethics, etc.), and the financial rewards are nonexistent or negligible.

As pointed out in the comments, the "oldest" medical blog probably is Family Medicine Notes, followed by GruntDoc.

Related reading and a lot of comments:

What is the oldest medical blog?
Why you should start blogging in 2011
Doctors are natural communicators - social media is extension of what they do every day
6 Reasons Why Doctors Blog
Who blogs? Personality predictors of blogging

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