My take: What makes a good medical blog?

Maria writes: “I’d like your take on what you think constitutes a ‘good’ medblog . . . I am continually surprised with what people like about medblogs. Some people like brief links, some people like critical discussions, some people like stories.

This ultimately all boils down to opinion, but I’d like to know what traits you like in medblogs.

Can you start by opining that you strongly dislike the word ‘medblogosphere’?”

My take: Good question. First off, I agree that “medblogopshere” is clumsy, unlike the shorthand for law blogs or “blawgs”. I’m open to suggestions on how we can make “the medical blogging world” or “medblogopshere” sound more cool and elegant.

Blogs essentially boil down into several basic forms. On one end, there is “link-blogging”, where the blog simply links to interesting reading. Examples are my own blog, as well as Instapundit, FARK.com, and kottke.org. On the other extreme, there are blogs with long, thoughtful entries expressing analysis, creative writing, or stories. Respectful Insolence, intueri, and Health Care Renewal fall into this category. There are also hybrid blogs that combine link-blogging with more lengthy entries, such as Freaknomics and the blog at MedPage Today.

I can’t say which is “better”. Each of these forms have their strengths, and it really is a matter of personal preference.

However, there are some common traits that I look for in a successful medical blog.

i) Content. Does it have, or link to, information that I can’t find in mainstream media? I generally read the major newspapers daily, so I’m looking for content that supplements what’s found in the news. This often includes opinions, insight, and personal experiences. I’m interested in reading different takes of a single issue. I also look for offbeat stories or links that are not covered by the major media sites.

For example, I added Buckeye Surgeon today to my blogroll. I read through a few of his April posts and found his experience with a case of Fournier’s Gangrene and a link to a tragic 2001 WSJ story. It was a well-written personal take on a case that can’t be found in mainstream media, as well as a poignant link.

ii) Updates. Whether it is a link-style blog like mine or Orac’s lengthy analytical missives, posting on a regular basis is critical. I would say at least several times a week at minimum.

iii) Comments. Posts often take on a life of their own in the comments. Active comment discussions add another dimension to the blog, and sometimes are more interesting than the blog itself.

iv) Grammar/spelling/formatting. I enjoy reading well-written text, free of grammatical and spelling errors. I tend to tune out long paragraphs without breaks. Inconsistent formatting of the posts also is a pet peeve. Seemingly trivial stuff, but makes a big difference to me.

I try to be conscious of these issues here, although I admit I’m not always successful.

v) Design. Blog template design should allow the reader to focus on the writing, so I find things like widgets and banners to be distracting. One appealing trend of blog design is so-called minimalism, which are blog designs that have a high signal to noise factor. inteuri is a great example. Despite the ads on my site, I try to keep Kevin, M.D. looking as fat-free as possible.

Of these factors, content is by far the most important. It won’t matter if you have a pretty looking blog if you have nothing to say.

So, that’s my take on what makes a “good” medical blog. I’d be interested to hear what readers have to say, or how I can improve my own blog.

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  • sue

    When I first started reading medical blogs (I wanted to find out what medical people thought of Glenn Beck’s ER tantrum), I was shocked at the amount of hostility that seemed to be directed toward patients. The comments sections of these blogs also left a lot to be desired, since in reading them I found that only comments along the lines of “you da man” and “couldn’t have said it better myself” seemed acceptable. Fortunately, I found a few like Kevin MD, Dinosaur and Musings of a Distractable Mind that restored my faith.

  • Maria

    Thank you, Dr. Kevbo (can I call you that? “Kevbo”? ;), for your response. Bonus points for also expressing disdain for “medblogosphere”. :)

  • dave

    I think the key to a good medical blog is value.

    First the blog needs to define its audience and then provide content which that audience finds valuable.

    Our blog focuses on research in the area of health disparities. We mostly provide links to current research and news in that area.

    But to add more value we are starting to provide podcasts of lectures and in the near future will be posting stories from our community based research.

    Hopefully by adding more value we will become a ‘good’ medical blog.

  • Panda Bear

    What am I, chopped liver?

  • Anonymous

    No, Dr. Bear, you are not chopped liver by any means. In fact, your entries have what I look for in a blog: “meat”, or not just content but the ability to establish and defend a position with argument and experience, yet without overblown invective. So many blogs are plain vanilla, in that they either cannot, or do not want to, take a position. You also have the ability to answer criticism with balance. I am a longtime lurker of your blog and enjoy it immensely, although I admit I shy away from commenting on many blogs, not just yours.

  • Chrys

    I think one of the features of a good blog is giving acknowledgment, and due respect to your readers. The best blogs interact with their readers. They don’t tolerate abuse in the comment section either. Discussions with varying view points are interesting, thought provoking, and can be entertaining, but attacks are just refuse.

  • DR. MARY JOHNSON

    Kevin, at the risk of having this comment deleted, I’ve heard from a number of folks who are of the opinion that “your” take on a “good medical blog” is first and foremost affected by your corporated sponsors.

    Of course, I am of the same opinion, as I came to the medical blogosphere over three years with a unique goal – to hold a hospital accountable for unethical & illegal behavior (something one would assume the medical blogosphere would care about). There are other blogs out there trying to do the same thing – but for the most part the medical blog establishment (just like the medical establishmet) won’t give them the time of day – keeping these bloggers marginalized and isolated.

    In this respect, the sad fact is that you are NOT pulling back the veil.”

    I’ve begged for a spot on your blogroll since the day I discovered you. I publish regularly. And a number of people have told me that my writing is very good. I have a defined audience too – the patients and doctors (particularly public service doctors) in North Carolina that have been victimized by corruption, lies and greed. I also have a “hyper-local” audience in my hometown – as more and more people are victimized by the “usual suspects” – my neighbors are finding out what it’s like to be me.

    Yet you’ve blown me completely off. My take is that don’t like it. I don’t respect it. And I will continue to pop in occasionally and call you on it.

  • Anonymous

    I also think a good blog is one where the owner appreciates comments, and responds occasionally to his readers. Something you don’t do. Abuse in the comment section is a complete turn off and you allow alot of it.

  • AmyT

    I just wanted to add that the traits Kevin mentions in this post are characteristics of ANY GOOD BLOG — nothing medical about it. In that sense, he’s offered a nice “minimalist” set of criteria for quality of a blog on any topic.

  • Collegiate

    Agree that minimalist blog design rules. Have always like this blog and Maria’s blog for that reason.

    I say let’s call the medical blogosphere Blogus Medicus.

  • Katrina Kitwell

    Hey Kevin! Really great blog. I am currently pretty concerned with the whole idea of all of our medical records going live online. Do you know if there is a public poll for this? Thanks, Katrina

  • Sublimemedical

    Kevin,

    Thanks for your answer. I particularly appreciated your comments on the importance of good grammar, spelling and formatting.

    I am a real stickler for this on our medical marketing blog.

    Some of your other recommendations will be useful for us as we develop our blog.

    Thanks!

  • http://www.catchfirecoaching.com Dr. Chandler George

    I think a good medblog is one that has high quality content, but content that’s geared toward the user. A lot of blogs I read are obviously geared toward other professionals, which is fine if that’s who you’re talking to but fails miserably if you’re trying to reach your patients.