By David Woods ([email protected])

Weblogs, or Blogs, have been around for about a decade. Generally viewed as quirky or even anarchic, they may now be gaining a new respectability and power … as evidenced by their influence in bringing about the defeat in US elections of pro-Iraq-war Democrat, Joe Lieberman.

Blogs are also playing a more mainstream and credible role in healthcare. There’s less of what The Economist calls some bloggers’ “vicious, shrill and sanctimonious” commentary. Indeed, Jerome Groopman, MD, in his popular recent book How Doctors Think, contends that many physicians are guided by stereotypes that may shut out possibilities that might contradict their preconceptions. His prescription: a heavy dose of heuristics – stimulating interest as a means of furthering investigation. It’s a defence against uncertainty, he believes, that creates a culture of conformity and orthodoxy.

Dr. Alan Adler (pictured) agrees. He is among those who believe that physicians and other healthcare professionals should – in that hackneyed phrase – think outside the box. And one way of doing that, he says, is by tapping into the blogosphere, which is just one part of the broader social network that includes such interactive innovations as YouTube and FaceBook.

Adler, a general internist with a master’s degree in administration, is a senior medical director at Independence Blue Cross, a Philadelphia-based health insurer with more than 9000 employees and upwards of 3 million policy holders.

“What I like about blogs,” he says, “is that they give doctors and other healthcare workers an opportunity to hear unconventional wisdom and to interact with it.” Blogs provide the opportunity to interact with additional innovative and creative minds outside the usual work environment. Further, he believes, blogs provide two-way communication in which mainstream healthcare professionals can add to the knowledge of bloggers – thereby creating balance.

While those bloggers don’t stand much of a chance in bringing radical change to a healthcare system that is complicated by agendas, special interests, and hierarchies, Adler believes that they can produce incremental change by forcing those in the mainstream to explore new or unusual tributaries.

At a time when healthcare is indeed becoming less hierarchical, blogs serve to speed up the move towards egalitarianism: patients armed with unconventional wisdom challenging the conventional variety. What will further help those patients sort the wheat from the chaff, says Dr. Adler, is a proposed Healthcare Blogger Code of Ethics.

In an article in Managed Care magazine (July 2007), Dr. Adler noted that “if you’ve only heard of blogs from the consumer press, you might think they consist entirely of blather about pop culture and outrageous fulminations from the political far left and far right. But the fact is, there are many serious, well-written blogs, and the major healthcare issues of the day are discussed on blogs more extensively than they are or could ever be discussed in academic articles.”

There are an estimated hundreds of healthcare blogs. Here is a list of some; and some of these will lead you to others you might want to look into: