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


AndrewMSmith said...

I think this depends on whether a blog is posting facts or commentary. Factual postings should link to a primary source, while commentary should be evident as someone's personal opinion, and subject to as much trust as the reader has time to give.

In a world where very few people rely on a single media channel (or sometimes even a single physician) do people really rely on a single blog to drive their opinions?

Anonymous said...

While I think that there are circumstances where some type of "Seal of Approval" can work, actual regulation is a much trickier proposition. Kevin Trudeau's commercial success is an example of the limits of regulation in the face of the First Amendment.

On a different topic, I'm struggling with Fard's numbers. 13.6 million adult health bloggers in the USA? Really? That's roughly 6.5% of the adult population. I have a hard time believing there are that many bona fide adult bloggers in the US, never mind health bloggers. I wonder if the study controlled for spam blogs, multiple blogs with one owner, blogs that are inactive/abandoned, etc.

John Mack said...

Maybe he includes people who write comments to blog posts among those 13.6 million who "write on blogs."

Fard Johnmar said...


I addressed this question on The Health Care Blog, but here's more detail.

We asked Americans whether they had developed at least one blog post about a health-related subject over the past six-months on a blog they or someone else owned.

We then asked this group whether the blog was primarily about health (please see the report for the question wording).

Regarding spam blogs, inactive blogs, etc. We tried to control somewhat for defunct blogs by placing a time period on their blogging activity.

As a point of comparison, in 2006, Pew asked adult Internet users "Do
you ever create or work on your own online journal or weblog?" for its report on bloggers. They defined people answering "yes" to this question as blog authors.

As you can see, the Pew and Envision surveys are limited by the fact that we may be picking up some "spam" bloggers or inactive blogs.
Another limitation is that people are self-identifying as bloggers.

In the Envision survey we did classify those writing on blogs where the majority of posts are about health as health bloggers. Given this, there is a chance we may have either underreported or overreported the number of people we identify as bloggers. Without a more in-depth survey, it is difficult to determine where the error may be.

However, it is useful to also look at the global survey we conducted of health bloggers. In 2007 and 2006, most respondents were authoring one blog. In addition, very few were writing on health blogs developed by others. (77% of people responding to this survey were from the U.S.)



Cary Byrd said...

Is there such a thing as a "disinterested 3rd party" anymore?