Back in ApFard_johnmarril, a communications consultancy called Envision Solutions released the first-ever formal analysis of the healthcare blogosphere, a thoroughly researched 110-page report on who's blogging, why, and what it all means. Founder and blogger Fard Johnmar was at the helm. DiabetesMine (that's me!) was fortunate enough to correspond with Mr. Johnmar during the research phase, and caught up with him again recently to "pick his brains" on the project and what it divulged.

DM) Fard, you and your company have focused on analyzing the "Healthcare Blogosphere" and explaining what it is and why it matters. Why bother?

FJ) I've always been interested in blogs, but my interest peaked when I decided to launch my own healthcare blog. Before starting, I would have loved to peruse some kind of "guide to healthcare blogging," but nothing like that was available... so I decided to develop a comprehensive resource on healthcare blogging on my own, believing that it would also be very useful for the entire healthcare community.

I should mention that my firm is not the only company developing publications on healthcare blogs. Datamonitor released a report earlier this year, titled "Web logs (Blogs) and the Pharmaceutical Industry" and ePharm published a report this month, "Fear of Blogging: Should Pharma Use Corporate Blogs?"

But these publications focus primarily on the pharmaceutical industry, while Envision Solutions' report tackles blogging issues important to a range of healthcare players -- including patients, hospitals, caregivers, consultants, hospital execs, pharma/biotech/medical device manufacturers, non-profit organizations and others.

DM) Can you give us numbers? How many doctors/ nurses/ professionals are blogging versus patients?

FJ) I get that question all the time. Unfortunately, no one has solid numbers on exactly how many healthcare providers are blogging versus patients. In fact there are no public statistics that I know of on the overall state of the healthcare blogosphere (I think the PR firm Edelman has a private list of prominent healthcare bloggers, but that's only available to their clients.)

You can use Technorati to see who's blogging about healthcare in general, but the information there is spotty at best -- because it's hard to determine which bloggers are writing primarily about healthcare. You could also look at two of the leading healthcare blog directories: The Medical Blog Network (TMBN) and Medlogs, but you won't be able to learn about trends in healthcare blogging using those resources.

We certainly need hard statistics, but nothing is out there right now. I'm happy to announce that I'm in the beginning stages of a project to gather some hard numbers on the state of the healthcare blogosphere (in conjunction with Dmitriy Kruglyak's TMBN).

DM) The number of people blogging about diabetes is growing exponentially. Is this true for cancer, AIDS, or other disorders as well? Why or why not?

FJ) My knowledge of the healthcare blogosphere is limited to specific categories (diabetes, cancer) and the overall shape of this growing online community. So I can't provide specific trends on the numbers of bloggers in other areas. However, this is one of the things we'd like to find out with our new research project. I'll provide more details on this initiative in the coming weeks.

DM) What were some of the biggest "wow" findings of your recent report on the Healthcare Blogosphere?

FJ) In reading reviews of the report and talking with others about it, I've found that people are surprised by different things. So I can't speak for everyone when I talk about the "wow" findings. But these are the things that surprised me about the healthcare blogosphere that others may find interesting:

* The Rise Of Citizen Medical Experts: I was surprised that there were so many laypersons who had become citizen medical experts by virtue of their blogging efforts. While bulletin boards provide a level of healthcare content, bloggers tend to provide much more in-depth information about medical topics. I expected healthcare providers to take the lead in providing medical information to the masses. However, after thinking about it, I shouldn't have been too surprised, as motivated patients (like yourself - see Six Habits of Highly Effective Healthcare Bloggers) may be much more interested in providing in-depth information to others on specific topics.

* Many Non-Profits Fear the Blogosphere: I would have expected healthcare non-profits to embrace blogging as a means of communicating with their constituents, but it really hasn't happened. I think that non-profits have little to fear from blogging and should embrace the technology. It's low-cost and very low-risk, especially when compared to pharmaceutical company and hospital corporate blogs.

* A Few Pharma/Medical Device Companies Are Blogging: With the intense regulatory scrutiny faced by pharma/medical device companies, I didn't expect them to enter the blogosphere. However, I was surprised that GlaxoSmithKline's French unit has a blog, Avenir de la Sante, and GE Healthcare has launched two as well, one in Europe and one in the US. I'm still waiting for more US healthcare companies to launch blogs, but given their fear of the blogosphere, it will be slow going.

DM) What can patients do to make the most of all the excellent healthcare blogs out there?

FJ) I think that patients can do a few things to take advantage of healthcare blogs, including:

1. Become Informed: Use blog search engines to find Weblogs of interest to you. Google Blog Search is a good place to start. A new blog search engine that I've been trying and like very much is Sphere. It not only provides you with relevant content from blogs depending on what you search for, but it provides key statistics on them (how many words per post, incoming links to the blog, etc.)

2. Patients can also peruse healthcare blog aggregators to find content. The top three are Medlogs, Healthcare Blogs, and The Medical Blog Network. I've found that The Medical Blog Network is the best of the lot because feeds are constantly updated and the publisher adds new features to the Web site on a regular basis.

3. Subscribe To RSS Feeds: It is very difficult for patients (or anyone) to keep up with blog content without subscribing to RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds. An RSS feed aggregator makes it very easy to keep track of blogs you'd like to read on a regular basis. I use Bloglines to keep up with blogs I like.

4. Participate: Blogs are a two-way communications medium. While some bloggers have turned off comments on their blogs (which I think is a bad idea), the best and most vibrant Weblogs are those where readers participate. I encourage patients to respond to posts they like (or don't like). Comments are a great source of information and often spark broader conversations on a specific topic.

5. Remember To Seek Professional Medical Advice: I think it's important for patients to remember that content on a healthcare blog is no substitute for the advice of a medical professional. If they plan to act on any information provided on a blog, they should consult their physician or another healthcare provider first.

DM: What do you expect the future of healthcare blogging to look like?

FJ: I think that there are three possible futures for healthcare blogging:

A) The Healthcare Blogosphere May Slowly Decline: In some respects blogs are like any new technology. There is a burst of interest and then the numbers of users decline. This may happen with healthcare blogging, as dabblers leave the blogosphere, but the serious bloggers who have gained a readership may continue to blog.

B) The Healthcare Blogosphere May Slowly Increase: It is also possible that the healthcare blogosphere will continue to grow over time as more people join the community.

C) The Healthcare Blogosphere May Become Highly Specialized: The healthcare blogosphere may continue to grow, but become highly specialized. By this I mean that certain bloggers build significant audiences and a "long-tail" of healthcare bloggers develops that have very small readerships, but a great deal of influence within small, but important communities.

Of these potential futures, I think the third option is most probable. This is because we've seen this happen in other areas of the blogosphere. By the way, I talk a lot more about the future of the healthcare blogosphere in my firm's report.

Thank you, Fard, for the insights on "the world we (virtually) live in." Much obliged.

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