So You Want to Be a Physician-Blogger: What It's Really Like to Write About Medicine Online

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Many physicians turn to blogging as a way to combat the deluge of online medical misinformation.
Many physicians turn to blogging as a way to combat the deluge of online medical misinformation.

Blogging has become a powerful tool for physicians to share their expertise, build better relationships with their patients, and make connections online. Many also turn to blogging as a way to combat the deluge of online medical misinformation.

"There's so much health and medical information being written these days, and much of it is not being written by medical experts," Linda Girgis, MD, FAAFP, a board-certified family physician in South River, New Jersey, and a clinical assistant professor at Rutgers University Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, who blogs at Dr. Linda, told Medical Bag. "It's important that more doctors start blogging and sharing information so we can combat all the fake news and pseudoscience out there."

Dr Girgis covers many different topics on her blog, but one of the popular topics is the current healthcare system in the United States.

"As a doctor, I see all the things my patients are suffering in the healthcare system these days, from being unable to afford their medications to being forced to pay very high deductibles. It's important that patients and doctors speak out against unjust healthcare system practices," she said. "I write about how patients are being hurt by the system and how doctors have lost control of it. I want people to realize that it is not OK to continue the way we are, and that they should speak up. I believe the only way we will see positive change is if people start speaking up."

Patricia Salber, MD, a board-certified internist and emergency physician, has been blogging at The Doctor Weighs In since 2005. She kept the blog running through a variety of twists and turns in her career before morphing it into a business a few years ago. The blog is now a health news site that features authors from around the world. Through her blog, Dr Salber was able to learn numerous useful skills outside of medical practice.

"I have had to gain many skills completely separate from medicine and medical writing in order to grow the business, [such as] HTML, WordPress, search engine optimization...and more. I am now doing technical things on the site that I never dreamed would be part of my day-to-day life, including troubleshooting complex technical issues and trying to learn a bit of web design," she said in an interview with Medical Bag. "I have learned the joy of continuing to challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone and learn new skills far different from the ones acquired in medical training."

Although there are many positive reasons for physicians to start blogging, the practice is not without its challenges.

"Time management is always a challenge, so it helps to create a calendar of when you want to post certain topics," Dr Girgis said. Dr Girgis has also had to deal with a number of trolls on her posts. "I write about many controversial topics and welcome debate and disagreement. But I have been shocked many times when people just come out hurling insults because they don't like what I say," she said. "While it is tempting to reply back, often it is best just to ignore them and move on."

Interested in starting your own blog? Dr Girgis has some advice: Set boundaries with patients early on.

"I hear many doctors [who] have concerns about privacy and patients trying to contact them online," she said. "In the beginning, I had a few patients try to contact me on social media. I tell them, 'Call the office,' and give them the number. I think as long as we are clear with what we allow, those concerns are easily handled."

Dr Salber often advises new bloggers to ask themselves why they want to blog. Answering this question helps establish goals for blogging. "If they just want to try it out to see if they really like it, I suggest they start by guest blogging," she said. "See if you like it, see if your stories get published. If not, what type of feedback are you getting? You need to figure out what you want from blogging and tailor your actions accordingly."

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