A study looking into the scope and content of medical blogs found that blogs pose risks to patient confidentiality and recommended the medical profession assume some responsibility for helping authors and readers negotiate these challenges.
Physician Tara Lagu, of the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program at the University of Pennsylvania, was the lead author of the study, funded in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The study sought to examine how often blog authors use blogs to comment about patients, violate patient privacy and otherwise display a lack of professionalism.
The study's authors said it was impossible to determine how many of the estimated 70 million blogs were run by healthcare providers, but they opined that a substantial medical blogging community exists. Some blogs are quite popular, including one, Fat Doctor, that received more than 200,000 visits during the previous year, according to the report. Some blogs are also quite commercial.
Of the 271 blogs included in the study group, 31 explicitly promoted a specific healthcare product, providing images, descriptions or advocacy, the report said. The authors added that a recent, separate study found that 29% of blog authors had been approached by public relations professionals to endorse specific products. More than half of those approached, 52%, acquiesced and endorsed the products on their blogs, the authors said.
Individual patients were described in 114 of the blogs reviewed by Lagu and her colleagues and 45 of them included sufficient information for patients to identify their doctors or themselves, the report said.
Blogs represent new channels of communications that give voice to a wider range of professionals enabling them to reach a broader audience, but they "also risk exposing the public to unprofessional content and tone, privacy violations and hidden promotions that damage the integrity of the medical field.
The authors recommended professional organizations should provide standards for blog tone and content.