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Vox Populi

Gary Baldwin, for HealthLeaders Media, July 8, 2008

The most remarkable aspect about the Internet is how it has morphed into one of the most free-wheeling free speech vehicles imaginable. The sheer number of individual blogs alone is astounding. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a new weblog, aka "blog," appears every 5.8 seconds. That roughly translates into 15,000 new blogs every day, adding to the millions upon millions already in existence. The healthcare space is not immune, and it seems like every week, I hear of another related blog. On the IT front, some belong to thought leaders like Mark Frisse and John Halamka. One curious one is anonymous, the author being the mysterious "Mr. HisTalk," who apparently has served as a hospital CIO. The author of this blog is no fan of trade magazines, dismissing us journalists as mere mouthpieces for IT software vendors.

Well, if I may digress for a moment, we do have our flaws, but anonymity is not one of them. We reporters are listeners as much as anything, and I for one, do not take my marching orders from software vendors. If anything gets my dander up, it's their relentless stream of hyperbole and jargon, which only serve to distance their own products from intended users. The very word "solution"—which vendors freely substitute for "software" —is a case in point. The only solutions are those carved out by hard-working teams of hospital and medical group staff trying to figure out how to resolve difficult information-sharing questions.

A difference in opinion about the value of journalists, however, underscores the value of the blogs. Where else but in the blogosphere could such a debate play out? If you look at Mr. HisTalk's site, you will find several examples.

Two health insurance plans that are part of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association are attempting to capitalize on the allure of online communication—by turning the blog soapbox over to members. No, these are not the personal blogs of the corporate leaders of the plans. Moreover, they go well beyond the patient portal where you can look up benefits and get a new member card. At sites launched by the Minnesota (thehealthcarescoop.com) and Florida (thepowerofthehumanvoice.com) plans, patients sound off on the industry in their own unedited words. The sites are fairly new and have already drawn a fair amount of consumer feedback—both positive and negative.

In contrast to these sites, so many of the sites in the vast blogosphere are little more than one-man-bands whose purpose in life seems to be playing for an audience of one. It is encouraging to see the Blues plans trying something new. If healthcare needs anything, it is more listening to the patients and consumers who foot the ever-mounting bills.

PS. This marks my final issue with HealthLeaders IT. Starting with the next issue, Kathryn Mackenzie will take the reins of the technology beat. It has been my pleasure to serve you over the past 15 months. Please join me in welcoming Kathryn. I know she will do a great job for you.


Gary Baldwin is technology editor of HealthLeaders magazine. He can be reached at gbaldwin@healthleadersmedia.com.
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