The move toward blogging

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a leader in using social media, such as blogs, to reach a portion of the population that is abandoning traditional media

Health care blogs are sprouting up with names such as Genetics and Health, Trusted.MD, the Health Care Blog and Diabetes Mine. They typically link to other health care blogs, forming a loose network of shared information that might or might not stand up to inspection by the American Medical Association.

“We’re entering an era where blogs have become the new credible source of health information because much of it is coming from people like yourself,” said Craig Lefebvre, a visiting professor at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services and a consultant to several federal health agencies. “But just like with early Web sites, we will go through a process of sorting out the quality from less quality blogs.”

At least one federal health agency has officially stepped into the world of blogs. Jay Bernhardt, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Marketing, said he uses a blog to reach people who are abandoning traditional media.

“New media will absolutely change how health information is produced, exchanged, packaged and consumed,” Bernhardt wrote in his blog, Health Marketing Musings. “For those of us working in governmental health communication and marketing at all levels, a fundamental challenge we all face is how to balance the old with the new.”

Bernhardt’s blog is directed to professionals in the emerging field of health marketing communications. “Blogs are informal and personal,” he said. CDC has made it a priority to use new media and social media to improve health, he added.

Several attempts are now under way to create more sophisticated forms of health care social networking, similar to the MySpace model in which users can collaborate more actively online. Dmitriy Kruglyak, founder of an early media platform called Trusted.MD, said he is trying to define how health care organizations should adopt social media and the role social media can play in improving health care.

Nevertheless, some experts question whether blogs can thrive in the government given the challenges of managing such a volatile medium.

“Blogs are growing, maturing, changing — just like the first wave of Web sites,” said David Ritter, chairman of the Labor and Employment Practice Group of law firm Neal Gerber and Eisenberg, which advises companies on social media practices. “The health care industry will catch up. But it has to stop being hesitant about dipping a toe into the social media area.”
Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md.

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