Blogging is the new It Thing in the medical community. More than ever before, physicians and other medical professions are using blogs to inform their patients, boost their professional credibility, cultivate a voice in the healthcare industry, and market their professional services.
There are hospital blogs (Boston Childrens’ blog), blogs by doctors (Seattle Mama Doc), blogs about specific conditions (Mayo Clinic’s Living with Cancer blog), blogs about healthcare policy (Kaiser’s Daily Health Policy Report), and blogs about healthcare IT (Healthcare IT News)…just to name a few.
These days, if you don’t exist online, you don’t exist. (Learn more about why blogging is paramount to success in today’s healthcare market.)
But how do you get started?
Most healthcare professionals are not writers, nor have much interest in becoming writers. Luckily, that’s not relevant, because blogging is just a conversation. The best blogs are personable and playful, while being informative, rather than rigid and laced with complex phrasing. Take the conversations you have with patients every day and translate them into a few paragraphs each—those are blog posts.
Here are some more tips to help you launch a successful medical blog:
Identify your goals.
Who are you trying to help or inform? Your patients, other clinicians, medical students, or others in the healthcare industry? What is the end result you envision? More patients in your office, better informed patients everywhere, a more effective healthcare system, or a guest spot on The Dr. Oz Show? Think big, but also be specific.
Use the answers to these questions to iron out the logistics of your blog: Which of the kinds of blogs mentioned earlier best supports your goals and appeals to you most? Will you write alone or collaborate with other clinicians? (For example, UW Health American Family Children’s Hospital’s blog has 9 regularly contributing authors.) Will your blog be hosted through your hospital or clinic’s site, or will it be a completely separate entity?
Pick your angle.
Will your blog cover general wellness or focus on a certain specialty, disease, or age group? The key is to make your angle specific enough that it’s not lost in the sea of other over-general blogs, but general enough that you won’t run out of topics after the first week.
Make it a habit.
You don’t necessarily have to blog frequently, but you must blog regularly. Daily or weekly is nice if you have the time, but you can also build a successful blog with monthly posts. If you know you’re going to be busy or out of town for an extended period, you can blog ahead and schedule your posts to be published automatically on a certain day. You can also use an editorial calendar (publishing schedule) like this one from WordPress to plan out your blog topics in advance, which can help keep you accountable.
Keep the blog on the brain.
Coming up with topics can be the hardest part of blogging. As you get increasingly comfortable with your blog, you naturally think about it more, and you’ll find that ideas will start popping into your head constantly throughout the day. Get into the habit of jotting those ideas down immediately when they come to you, and in a place that’s convenient for you to access both then and later (such as your smartphone).
In case you get stuck, keep some easy topic triggers in the back of your mind, like these:
- Respond to a current topic in medical news or research.
- Pick a condition or injury you deal with often and write up the pros and cons of each treatment option available.
- Get personal: what’s it like to be a doctor? Give an account of a typical day in your life.
- Write a Top Ten list. These are often (relatively) easy to compose and are always a hit with readers. For example, the top ten ways to: slow aging, expedite recovery from a certain surgery, or be a star patient. When possible, look for unique twists on topics that have already been covered, or narrow your scope on them to stand out. Go for topics that showcase your specific expertise, rather than ones anyone could write. (Think of what you see on the covers of fluffy health magazines, such as “Top Ten Ways to Fight the Common Cold”—those are the topics to skip.)
- Ask your readers. Send out a call for topics (just make sure you do it long before you’re really stuck). What do they want to hear about?
Other bloggers can be some of your greatest inspirations, not to mention some of your biggest evangelists. Participate in the medical blogging community by following your fellow healthcare professionals’ blogs and Twitter accounts, and leaving thoughtful comments on their work. If you find something particularly interesting, you can respond to it with a follow-up post on your own blog or just link to it in a post. Blog love is cyclical, and you’ll be rewarded for supporting others with new followers and commentary of your own.
Don’t scare people.
When writing about particular conditions or injuries, know that people dealing with those conditions or injuries are hanging on your every word. People you have never seen and may never see in your office are trying to make decisions based on what you say, whether you realize it or not. Beware of generalizations, grand statements, mentions of specific medications or therapies, and theories that lack practice-based evidence. If you’re discussing an extreme case—either a worst case scenario or a borderline medical miracle—make sure you’re clearly indicating that these events are well outside the norm.
Be aware of HIPAA.
But don’t be paralyzed by it. Privacy laws can make medical blogging a delicate thing. As much as you need to be aware of these laws and understand how they apply to blogging, you shouldn’t let HIPAA scare you away from blogging. As long as proper measures are being taken to keep Protected Health Information private and secure—mostly, you’re not including patient names or patient-specific information or images on your blog—there’s really nothing for you to fear. However, it’s still a good idea to include a thorough disclaimer somewhere visible on your blog, explaining that your opinions are your own and that patients are always urged to consult their doctors to discuss their specific cases.
Some organizations, such as the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, actually encourage patients to share their stories, in detail and including PHI, after reviewing a HIPAA policy document and signing a secure online form. Their website is very clear about how and where the information might be used, including any website owned or managed by the hospital (which could certainly include blogs).
Many doctors are leveraging their dictation skills to blog faster. With the right setup, you can dictate directly into a WordPress blog using Dragon Naturally Speaking, or other voice recognition software, and complete a blog post in as little time as it takes you to dictate a case or visit. Dragon also offers free dictation apps for your smartphone so you can blog on the move, and you can even use it to dictate to Twitter and Facebook. Just don’t forget to proofread before hitting Publish—dictation software has its shortcomings, and burning typos do you no favors in the blogging world.
Once your blog is up and running, you’ll need to turn your attention to making sure people know about it. If your blog is closely tied to your clinic or hospital website, you can easily gain publicity there, but don’t limit yourself to local readership. Healthcare is universal, and your expertise is valuable worldwide. There are plenty of tutorials and tips online for building readership and visibility for your blog, such as this one.
As with most large endeavors, what you put into blogging is on par with what you’ll get out of it.