On the virtually connecting session yesterday we talked about the role blogging might play in healthcare. One question that Susan Adam’s (@edtechsight) asks us was how to educate patients about blogs (or inspire them to participate in the blogosphere)? She mentioned seeing something like a pamphlet or patient handout that talked about the role of blogs in healthcare – sort of like the various handouts on support groups relating to various illnesses or public service announcements.
It occurred to me while reading an article about the “lack of scientific knowledge of illness blog practices and their utility during illness within the healthcare disciplines” (Heilferty, 2009, p. 1546), that the problem is the need to see the utility of blogging as a “treatment” rather than a “service”. I rant a bit about the issue with “scientific knowledge” being applied to narrative practice in a blog post on my other blog. My point here is that I see blogging and the use of blogs as a ‘service’ that might be offered to patients, rather than treatment. Blogs are not a ‘cure’ for some form of aliment – although they do have some curative powers in the mental health space – a part of their value is the service they provide to help healthcare providers, caregivers, and other patients better understand the nuances of the illness experience. One example I like to give is relating to chemotherapy. Websites will tell you about side effects. They might even give you a few tips on managing those side effects. But they won’t give the plethora of real tips that come from reading real experiences. Things like having a separate towel to dry your head after a shower while your hair is falling out.
I also don’t necessarily think all patient need to read blogs. After my diagnosis, I wasn’t able to read blogs. It was probably three months before I started reading them. However, my husband did read blogs. Caregivers need to have a sense of what you are going through too. Blogs really help caregivers better understand what it means to go through the illness, on a much more thorough level than what any healthcare provider or website can articulate. My husband used blogs to help understand what I might be going through – but also get practical tips for how he might better support me throughout my treatment. When I was ready, he pointed me to a few great blogs, which got me started reading other blogs and then connecting to the blogosphere.
But getting back the service. The role I see of blogs in healthcare in the short-term future is the same as fitness classes and chair massages. These are services that are provided by our healthcare centers (e.g. Stanford Supportive Care program provides a variety of educational sessions as well as yoga classes, gym classes, and chair massage in the waiting rooms). I see a session on the role of blogs in digital health literacy as an important service that healthcare organizations can provided for their patients. I don’t see it as a treatment provided by a doctor or nurse – at least not yet. I do hope for the day when we have a good health blog search engine (researchers are working on it) where patient could use blogs to easily find meaningful health information. I don’t know that it will ever happen. For now, I think we need to do more to teach patients what types of information is appropriate in health blogs, and where to find a few good ones (to get them started).
Heilferty, C. M. (2009). Toward a theory of online communication in illness: concept analysis of illness blogs. J Adv Nurs, 65(7), 1539-1547. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.2009.04996.x
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