BACKGROUND: Medical weblogs (“blogs”) have emerged as a new connection between health professionals and the public. OBJECTIVE: To examine the scope and content of medical blogs and approximate how often blog authors commented about patients, violated patient privacy, or displayed a lack of professionalism. DESIGN: We defined medical blogs as those that contain some medical content and were apparently written by physicians or nurses. We used the Google search term “medical blog” to begin a modified snowball sampling method to identify sites posting entries from 1/1/06 through 12/14/06. We reviewed five entries per blog, categorizing content and characteristics.
RESULTS: We identified 271 medical blogs. Over half (56.8%) of blog authors provided sufficient information in text or image to reveal their identities. Individual patients were described in 114 (42.1%) blogs. Patients were portrayed positively in 43 blogs (15.9%) and negatively in 48 blogs (17.7%). Of blogs that described interactions with individual patients, 45 (16.6%) included sufficient information for patients to identify their doctors or themselves. Three blogs showed recognizable photographic images of patients. Healthcare products were promoted, either by images or descriptions, in 31 (11.4%) blogs. CONCLUSIONS: Blogs are a growing part of the public face of the health professions. They offer physicians and nurses the opportunity to share their narratives. They also risk revealing confidential information or, in their tone or content, risk reflecting poorly on the blog authors and their professions. The health professions should assume some responsibility for helping authors and readers negotiate these challenges.