Monday, September 8, 2008

Is a 3rd-Party "Seal of Approval" for Health Blogs Necessary?

Fard Johnmar, founder of healthcare marketing communications consultancy Envision Solutions, LLC and author of the blog HealthCareVox, just released results of a new study of the Health Blogosphere. Here are some snippets form the press release:

"According to a national survey we commissioned, the U.S. adult health blogging population currently stands at 13.6 million. (We defined health bloggers as people writing on blogs where at least at least 50% of posts focus on health-related topics.) In addition, the majority of health bloggers are female and 38% are either African American or Hispanic.

"Marketing activity taking place in the health blogosphere has increased. For example, the number of bloggers reporting inquiries from public relations professionals jumped 57% between 2006 and 2007. Also, respondents were more likely to report running advertising on their Weblogs.

Of course, these marketing trends will be cause for concern for some. However there is evidence many bloggers are operating ethically. Most respondents view statements by their peers critically. Yet the majority have great confidence health bloggers routinely disclose apparent and implied conflicts of interest.

Overall, these two studies indicate that the state of the health blogosphere is strong. Millions of Americans are writing health blogs. In addition, many are operating ethically."
However, at least one-third (34%) of respondents have low confidence that healthcare bloggers disclose conflicts of interest and about the same feel that running advertising on blogs negatively affects credibility (an equal number strongly disagree). [Compare these results with the 2007 Pharma Blogosphere Survey.]

At least one commenter to Fard's post announcing the report suggested that a "smidgen of regulatory oversight" might be called for:
"Seems to me that a 'credentialing' function or disinterested 3rd party seal of approval may filter the credible sites from the pumping crowd.

Privacy, legal and veracity issues notwithstanding, the horse is no doubt 'running on the range'. The question seems to be: how will market forces, tempered by voluntary enforcement of a code of ethics, coupled perhaps with a smidgen of regulatory oversight coalesce into an aggregate voice in the interest of public health?" -- Gregg Masters
[I note with amusement, that when you click on Gregg's name, you are brought to the site -- "Your trusted source for value in hospital and physician services..." -- which has no information about who produces the site, what the privacy policy is, and what, if any, conflicts of interest may exist.]

Is a "Seal of Approval" Needed for Health Blogs?
No, we don't need no stinkin' seal!
Yes, it is imperative!
Can't say one way or another
Maybe not a seal, but a "credo" or guidelines with signatories -- like the PhRMA Code

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