Sunday, August 12, 2007

New to medical blogs? Vitum's Beginner's Guide to Reading Medical Blogs

Over a year ago, I discovered the medical blogging community, and the amount I've learned from it has been incredible. I linked to my first blog through an online medical forum, found a series I enjoyed (the Don't Become a Doctor series on Incidental Finding's blog), and started reading every post in that series. I was captivated. I loved the humour, the point-blank honesty, and the impact the blog made on me.

I wanted more. But I didn't really have a clue about where to begin reading more medical blogs. I somewhat stumbled through blogs for a while, here and there learning neat things about being a blog reader that I wish I'd known sooner. It would have been nice to know them right from the start - to read them in some sort of concise, brief overview guide. So, after a year of being involved in the medblog community and somewhat 'knowing the ropes' by now, I've decided to put a guide together myself. Here it is.

WHAT IS THE MEDICAL BLOGGING COMMUNITY?

If you're reading this, you've obviously had some experience with the medical blogging community - this is, after all, a medical blog.

You may not be aware, however, how broad the scope of the medical blog community really is - it took me a while to figure it out. Medical bloggers include, to name a few:

There is so much content in the medical blog community that it might seem overwhelming at the start. So, where should you begin?

FINDING INTERESTING POSTS

There are many genres of medical blog posts - humour, drama, law / politics / policy, research - and any one of these genres can contain any type of content - stories, instructions, commentary, helpful advice, or interesting links.

Just Browsing?

If you're just browsing, and you are interested in a recent digest of the best posts of the medical blogosphere regardless of the topic, you should definitely check out a blog carnival. The authoritative medical blog carnival is Grand Rounds (hosted here in July 2007) - here's a list of past and upcoming Grand Rounds hosts. Other medical blog carnivals include Change of Shift, which has a focus on nursing blogs, and Medicine 2.0 which focuses on the combination of Web 2.0 and medicine.


Looking for Specific Topics?

You may already have an idea of the genres you enjoy, or, more specifically, individual topics within those genres. If that's the case, here's how I recommend finding great posts: Good ol' Google.

Two Ways to use Google

Google is a great way to find individual posts on specific topics that are of interest to you, but you might not have known there are two ways to find great posts on Google.

The first way is using the regular old Google.com, but including the keyword "blog" (for example, searching 'medical student blog') - this will sort blog posts by relevance, listing the most linked-to and relevant posts. However, this will show websites that aren't necessarily blogs - news stories, forums, etc.

The second way is to use Google BlogSearch. It works just like Google - the difference is, it only searches blogs, and the results you get tend to be very recent (usually posted that day or week), rather than sorted by the number of links to each post.

FINDING INTERESTING BLOGS

You'll find that as you read interesting posts, you'll really like the author's sense of humour or perspective, and you'll look up more posts on that blog. Like me, you might find that you'll read all the archives of a few blogs you really enjoy - every post that blogger has written.

Blogrolls

So how can you find new blogs by blogger, rather than each individual post? Again, blog carnivals are a great way to do this, but another great way to discover new blogs is to check out the blogroll on the blogs you enjoy. Most bloggers have a blogroll - a list of links to other blogs. You'll notice my blogroll in the right-hand column, under "Vitum bloggicus" - it's a list of bloggers that I have been influenced by, and enjoy reading on a regular basis, to the extent that I thought my readers would enjoy them as well - so I figured I would post the links.

Blog Ranking Directories

There are directories that rank blogs by topic - the Healthcare 100 from eDrugSearch and the Medgadget.nl ranking are lists of blogs ranked according to a number of different criteria, which will let you find popular medblogs. These will also help you get an idea of the who's who of medical bloggers, the more famous ones such as Kevin MD and Over My Med Body.

KEEPING UP ON ALL THE BLOGGY GOODNESS

The Amateur Blog Reader

An amateur blog reader finds a blog or two they enjoy, and then they'll bookmark them or try to remember the title. Every so often, they'll use their bookmarks or Google to find those blogs again, head to the sites, and catch up on the latest reading.

If they're lucky, the blog user has posted something interesting since the reader last checked. Otherwise, there might not be anything new. But the downside is, if you go to a blog that hasn't been updated the last few times you checked, you'll get frustrated and could even throw a tantrum, and you might not be inclined to visit it as often.

The Intermediate Blog Reader

That's how I read blogs for almost a year. Then something amazing happened. After countless tantrums, I realized that more advanced - or perhaps just smarter - blog readers make the blogs do the work: instead of you going to a blog to find out if it's been updated, let the blog come to you.

One way to do this is to sign up for an e-mail subscription to a blog that you like. Some bloggers are considerate enough to offer the ability to have new posts e-mailed to you (clearly if I put it like that, I offer this option to my readers). This is good for people who only want to keep track of a couple of blogs.

The Advanced Blog Reader

If you're interested in more blogs than just a few, you might want to consider signing up for an RSS Feed Reader such as Google Reader - almost every blog offers their posts in regular updates through a feed you can subscribe to. I took a long time before I started using a feed reader... and every time I look back I wonder why I waited so long. This way, I can keep track of a few dozen blogs without having to check them so often - I just go to my feed reader and new posts show up whenever they've been written.


SUPERCHARGE YOUR MEDBLOG EXPERIENCE

Perhaps the best thing about medical blogs is you can play a huge role in the content you're reading. Almost every blog contains the capacity to accept and display reader comments, and most bloggers have contact information available so you can contact the bloggers directly - use these! Contribute to the discussion and increase the quality of the blogs, and you'll improve medical blogs for yourself - and everyone else.

THE LATEST MEDBLOG GOSSIP - CONFIDENTIALITY AND ETHICS

If you're going to hang out in the medblog community, you might as well know about the latest gossip. A major event that had repercussions throughout the medblog community recently has been the disappearance of a couple of bloggers due to patient confidentiality issues. Both The Flea (former Best Medical Weblog winner) and Barbados Butterfly ended up getting attention in the mainstream media (such as ABC News) after they found that medical blogging is hard to mix with getting sued or working in certain hospitals - both of them suffered consequences such as being forced to settle their lawsuit or being suspended from work.

The events sparked lively discussion, and some medical bloggers posted reactions lamenting the loss of the bloggers, and were reminded to be more cautious to keep patient confidentiality an extremely high priority.


Rob from medbloggercode.com was kind enough to comment on this post and point out the Healthcare Blogger Code of Ethics, a development in the healthcare blogging community that deserve mention in any med blogging guide. The Code is designed to hold medical blogs to a high standard when it comes to the nature of medical blogging, and its goal is to provide benefit for readers and bloggers alike.

THE NEXT STEP - START YOUR OWN MEDICAL BLOG?


Soon you might find that you've got so many things to say in the comment sections of other blogs, that you realize you should start your own blog. Blogger and Wordpress are two awesome, free sites that will get you started on your blog.

THE END

That's all I've got for now. Maybe over the next year I'll find just as many tips about medical blogs. Feel free to ask questions about medblogs, or post your own tips for new medical bloggers in the comments below.




47 comments:

Terry at Counting Sheep said...

Very nice walk-through, VM. As someone fairly new to blogging, I appreciate both your well-written guide here and mention of my blog (blush).

Keep on bloggin'

The Anonymous Therapist said...

An excellent medblog overview. Thanks for including me in the mix; us ancillary types often feel left out.

Paul Levy said...

Thanks for mentioning my blog.

Paul Levy said...

By the way, I am more than a little put off by the fact that you chose to have advertisements from drug companies on your blog. Do you really need to do that? How do you think your future patients would feel when they learn that you did this?

Rob said...

Well done. I would like to add that the Healthcare Blogger Code of Ethics is beginning to put up a Medical Blog Gallery that will (hopefully) eventually give a list of the main medical blogs on the web and a summary/review of each of them. We felt there needed to be a source where true medical bloggers could make themselves known to the blogging community. It also highlights (through the code of ethics) the proper way to responsibly blog.

Rob

Vitum Medicinus said...

Thanks for the comments!

Paul - Google takes care of all the ads on this website. I haven't seen any ads from drug companies show up on this site, usually they're for medical schools and the like, otherwise I'd consider blocking them.

Then again, I wonder if it's any different than, say, a family physician accepting a cruise from a drug rep? or a gift basket? or a pad of paper? Also something to consider.

Berci Meskó said...

An unbelievably comprehensive post! Well done! We'll definitely include it in the next edition of Medicine 2.0 carnival.

Vitum Medicinus said...

Thanks Berci! This one took me a bit longer than usual to churn out so I'm glad the extra work hasn't gone unnoticed.

Paul Levy said...

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Paul Levy said...

On your point: "I wonder if it's any different than, say, a family physician accepting a cruise from a drug rep?" No, there is no difference. That is exactly my point. Maybe it is all right since you are clearly disclosing the commercial relationship. But it makes me feel odd that, even as a medical student, you are taking money from a drug company. I wonder how others feel.

Paul Levy said...

Actually, you are not clearly disclosing it because you never disclose your own name. Ask your ethics professor at your medical school and see what s/he thinks.

Jan said...

This is indeed a very good article. I will recommend this to my reader who want to know about the medical blogosphere.

Dr. A said...

Thanks so much for the link! I really appreciate it. I even mentioned this post on my blog.

Ajitbhai said...

Very informative post. Landed on this blog from Dr.A .Have bookmarked the links and will be going in detail shortly. I am new to blogging and do write whenever possible.

Jan said...

After a request from Medgadget.com I changed the URL of my weblog. The name of the weblog is Medblog.nl. You can find a monthly update of the ranking on this weblog.

It would be very nice if you would change the urls in the article. But if you don't change them the visitors will nevertheless automatically be redirected to the right page.

Cal said...

I'm priveleged to be on your blogroll!

Thank you!

Y. S. said...

Excellent post, thanks a lot.

I'm adding you to my blogroll, can you add me?

phorun said...

Thank you for this wonderful resource. you have given me a new way to avoid studying ;-) and probably learn way more anyhow.

Navtej Kohli said...

I also have a medicial site and a blog. Thanks for sharing this information. Now I know how to make my blog more useful to its readers.

nivedita said...

hey thanks for the walk-through. I'm not a newcomer to blogging, but it only recently occurred to me to start medblogging (i'm an american M2 in India). your blogroll is a great place for me to start, and an excellent way to know what's going on in med schools around the world. I just got started, but be sure and check out my blog at http://scrubbingup.blogspot.com. good luck with stuff!

Dr. Gary Rothfeld said...

Great website

everyday learner said...

nice blog you have here, can you blog about medical coding too and its importance to the doctors (if it is) and patients. thanks! :D

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very nice over view, very nice blog!

yamiryu990 said...

a lovely post. thank you from a college student who reads these for fun. would you mind if i linked your blog from mine? you might want to delete the comment above this since it was done by a spambot.

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