Health blogs? Sites that rate hospitals and doctors? If you're the kind of Web user I suspect you are—you found your way to this page, didn't you?—there's a good chance you're aware of them. Most of the public has no idea they exist, however, and their quality is all over the map. This was among the issues hashed out at an all-day conference last week devoted to a "healthier Web." The conference was sponsored by Consumer Reports and held at the magazine's headquarters in Yonkers, N.Y. I was on a panel that addressed ratings. Almost all of the panelists and attendees were bloggers, and quite a few were physicians.
A comment by one of the blogger docs, an Augusta, Ga., internist/pediatrician named Rob Lamberts (Musings of a Distractible Mind), registered with me. Many physicians who blog, he said, do not actively practice. They may be retired, in administrative or policy positions, at think tanks, or removed in other ways from the world of examining rooms, insurance hassles, and, of course, patients. These doctors also may not stay current with medical findings. Yet because they have an M.D. and post their thoughts in a public space, they wear the mantle of authority. Dr. Rob, as Lamberts calls himself in his blog, expressed concern about their accuracy, judgment, and credibility.
Several other physicians in the room agreed and related tales of doctors who blogged out of their areas of expertise and posted information that was simply wrong. And panelist Orly Avitzur, a neurologist and Consumer Reports medical adviser, sounded an alarm about physician blogs loaded with promotional ads for products. The obvious advice—trust but verify—sounds nice, but nailing down a medical assertion isn't always easy even for medical reporters, who are used to digging through journals and studies. Some consumers would rub their hands and dive in, but to expect that of the public is unrealistic and unfair.
In my next post, I'll talk about a spirited discussion later in the day about ratings, especially of doctors.
Oh, and would somebody tell me why Consumer Reports' own health blog doesn't have a word about the conference?