Blogs created by health professionals are a growing aspect of the interface between the public and health practitioners. While blogs can certainly be positive sources of interaction between these two arenas, and a valuable source of insights and information from health professionals, blogs also have the potential to violate patient privacy.
This study identified 271 medical blogs (defined as written by either physicians or nurses) and analyzed them by coding 16 characteristics of the content. Five entries were read for each blog, or, if there were fewer than five total entries, all available entries were read. The authors analyzed blog content:
- to identify negative and positive content about patients;
- to determine if patient confidentiality had been violated;
- to determine whether the blogger could be identified;
- for commentary on the health care system in general; and
- for the presence of product endorsements and other features.
The authors determined that over half the blogs had identifiable authors; 45 blogs described patient interactions that included significant identifying information about the author; three blogs contained photographs of patients and one had a link to photographs of a patient; eight showed patient radiographs without other identifying information; 43 blogs described patients positively, 48 described them negatively, and 18 contained negative and positive commentary on patients; half contained commentary on the health care system; and 31 explicitly promoted a product while providing no information on conflict of interest.
The authors concluded that the burgeoning of medical blogs is both cause for alarm and reason for optimism. Blogs may help health professionals feel less isolated from each other and connect to helpful peers, particularly in rural settings. Blogs also may provide a useful forum for health practitioners to convey information to the public. Clearly, however, they also pose a large risk of improperly revealing patient information, casting an unprofessional light on health care professionals, and providing a space for improper product promotion.