Wednesday, May 23, 2012

[Vital Signs Column] Blogging for Health

Vital Signs, is the FIRST newspaper for the medical community. It caters to doctors, health workers and other healthcare professionals, bringing them the latest health news, scientific updates, as well as opinions, and commentaries on current issues impacting healthcare delivery in the country. You can read Alvin Dakis' columns on nursing & social issues named Nurse's Notes in every Vital Signs newspaper published every 1st & 15th of the month. 
May 16-30, 2012 Issue

This is the digital age: the Age of Internet and Social Media.

Everything happens in the cyberspace. Nothing escapes in tweets, status posts, video uploads and blogs.

And yet healthcare information has a lot of catching up to do. For many healthcare professionals, this is something strange, beyond the comfort zones and needed to be ventured. This is something we can work on, perhaps a new career for many of us.

But what is blogging and how can it increase access to health information & education?

Can blogging be a reliable source of health information? And what are the downsides of blogging for health?

Blogging is a new tool for increasing access to health information from the basics of hygiene, to different types of cancers, to management of hypertension and to some personal stories of how they survive a crisis. Blogging is a way for people to share their insights, opinions, expert views and life stories. Blogging can be done by anyone and there are platforms which are easy to use and guides for start-up.

With the advent of social media, blogging can truly be helpful as an online resource. There are quite a handful of health blogs that are established but there are also others which I encountered that spearheaded misinformation.

I started blogging in 2010 with the initial purpose of posting personal opinions on different health issues I usually encounter. It was hard at the beginning and that it required me to regularly post because my readers are increasing in number. Since I am the only one managing my blog, the Nightingale Chronicles, I am also the one doing all the lay-outing (which of course is not that difficult provided by helpful applications online).

I blog for the following reasons:

Access to Health Information: Blogging is a means for me to provide basic information about health matters, especially reproductive & sexual health which is my field of interest. I write about some basic tips or information on reproductive & sexual health, sexually transmissible infections, HIV & AIDS and other non-communicable diseases which catch my interest (like Diabetes). I make sure that the information I put are correct and can easily be understood by the general public (since all my articles can be read by anyone).

Busting Health Myths: One of the biggest thing health blogging can do is to perhaps help educate more clients about their health conditions and to bust those urban legends & myths that many of them believe till now. But being able to bust health myths, a blogger must really do a lot of reading, studying and comparing so that he/she can post something that is correct & backed by medical truth.

Updates on Health Issues: Most of the time I blog about health & social issues and the progress in each case like the RH Bill for one. Plenty of times I have received negative comments about my stand on the bill and other controversial bills which I support such as Anti-Discrimination Bill, Divorce Bill etc. Social issues are also my interest and usually I write something about it, if given the time.

Updates on Nursing Issues: Blogging has indeed found its way to bridging the information gaps especially in a lot of nursing issues happening in the country. One of my current goals is to blog about my involvement with different initiatives in nursing leadership like the on-going issue of nursing exploitation, the amendments of the nursing law and the formation of the nursing roadmap 2030. Many nurses in the grassroots level do not have access or updates to the things I mentioned and having to blog about it would help them know more about the progress of the profession and be able to respond actively.

Encouraging Health Debates: Some of my blog posts have sparked some discussions and debates from the readers. The blogger has to be prepared to receive some feisty comments. But as the owner of the blog, you may moderate and set basic rules for them to follow. I don’t normally delete or block comments but I do give a warning that use of profane words or giving below-the-belt remarks would be subject for deletion.

Connect Other Activities: I regularly write as a columnist to Vital Signs but most of the time, my online readers cannot read it because the newspaper is by subscription-based so after my column gets published, I post online copies in my blog so they’ll be given a chance to read and interact. I also post some media releases from partner organizations to my blog (even sometimes it is not health related).

Who can do health blogging?
I recommend health professionals to do health blogging. This may be a journal of your experiences as a health professional or to focus on a specific health topic for you to revolve around. Training in blogging is not really necessary but of course if you think that this can be a career path you might want to take, then by all means take trainings on social media, journalism or the likes. I had my media training for reproductive & sexual health before I started writing regularly for my blog.

However, any person can become a health blogger. If your passion is about promoting health, and preventing diseases, then health blogging might just be your turf! You may or may not be regularly posting articles in your blog but as long as you have the passion and time to update your blog, you will be fine. Also remember to study the details before you post it online.

There is one micro-blogging site I know that you can also use if you are not fond of writing long articles and maintaining a blog site. This is Twitter is a form of a micro-blogging site which permits its users to blog (which is commonly known as tweeting) with a maximum limit of 140 characters.

Anything beyond that, the user must continue blogging in another post or through the use of applications like Twitlonger that allows users to blog/tweet longer than 140 characters. Micro-blogging is an avenue for creative writing where the user has to think of ways to compress his/her message in 140 characters and to use a hashtag (#) so that followers/readers can easily follow the flow of the conversation.

Implications of Health Blogging
Blogging for health is not a child’s play. We write and post information that could be detrimental to someone who might stumble in our blog. We have to be careful and prudent of the things we post in our blog. Also for health professionals, this is a special call.

Health professionals are bound by their Code of Ethics. Health professionals, as much as they are given the freedom to inform have the responsibility of not disclosing private information about their clients. Unintentional disclosure may lead to lawsuits and may be a subject for revocation of license.

Unintentional disclosure of client/patient information may include specific details such as the client’s name, social security number, and other critical information about the client’s health plan or procedures. Health professionals doing blogging should be careful not to go beyond their call of duty.

If you are not a health professional but is blogging about health, I also would also recommend that you do not spread misinformation. For example, one blogger is writing about HIV and is accusing some people that they are HIV positive, posting their photos, names and other details. This is an example of a wrongful way of health blogging.

Blogging may be a good tool to use to educate and inform people about health but it may also be dangerous once uncontrolled and intentionally/unintentionally misinforming.

So blog prudently.

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