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The Business of Health Blogging

Posted Feb 02 2009 11:42pm

Healthcare is a big business in the US, and getting bigger all the time.   The internet and social media have entered the action in response to consumer demand for information as part of a healthy desire for, well, more health.  For the venture capitalist this means opportunity with a capital O.    

  This consumer demand is as old as mankind.  Through the ages, communities around the globe have depended on their shamans, clerics, or medicine men.  Science and evidence base led to startling new developments beginning in the nineteenth century.  As the science of medicine has evolved, the now infamous snake oil salesmen emerged with it.  Travelling across the country, they pawned off Aunt Elmira’s secret miracle health tonic as the cure from everything from hangnail to heart disease. 

    More recently, as healthcare itself has become big business and left more and more patients disillusioned, “alternative” health care has become a trendy buzzword.  

     New practitioners and companies now promise more “natural” solutions, time tested in ancient cultures, drawn from the earth itself, rather than some sterile, frightening laboratory.   They use a more personable approach and exude confidence in everything they sell.  The tactics are a century old, tried and true. 

   For so very many, this approach works, because there is a demand for it.  We have lost something in modern medicine as we have honed in on fixing the body, with better technology, training, and treatments, neglecting matters of the mind and soul as well.   

   Health, like so many other things related to the public good, can become corrosive when mixed with business.   We have snake oil salesmen rampant in our midst today.    Alternative or complementary medicine exudes a money making aura that draws those more interested in making money, and less interested in actual health and well-being.   When it comes to business, Caveat Emptor, Latin for “let the buyer beware” will always apply.

  Which brings me to the latest moneymaking front in the healthcare world, the Internet.  It seems more and more patients are looking to save a buck by looking up information or symptoms on the internet and avoid the hassle of the doctor’s office.   The search engines are flooded with requests for health information and many companies have sprung up eager to supply it.   In many good ways, this is empowering.  It enables patients to take charge of their own health, which is an important and desirable goal.  

    That said, Caveat Emptor.  The internet is a largely unregulated frontier.  The information is spotty, often misleading.  Many people have harmed their own and their children’s health taking actions they thought were protecting them. 

   My advice has always been found right at the bottom of my blog, please always consult your physician for specific medical advice.  Accept no substitutes.  Seeing as how I’m a professional this could be construed as acting out of self interest, but there it is.  Medical training is extraordinarily harsh, time consuming, and rigorous for a reason.

   I belong to a health information aggregator site called Wellsphere.  The health blogger corner of  Twitter has been all abuzz with the news that another healthinfo site,  HealthCentral, just purchased the rights to Wellsphere in a multi-million dollar deal.

    As a Wellsphere blogger, I am paid, well nothing last I checked.  Which is okay.  My family won’t starve.  I have another job.  I also don’t know that the money and advertising are primarily for blog content.  There are other features to Wellsphere, like a health reminder test message service. 

      I blog largely to offer others support and as a personal avenue for self expression.  This is why I signed away my intellectual property rights, apparently in perpetuity, henceforth and forever, to allow Wellsphere access to reprint all my blog content. 

     The idea promoted to me was for some of that traffic to make it back to my blog, which never really materialized.  Still, if my information can helpful to that many more people, I welcome the opportunity.  

    I have received multiple e-mails from fellow residents battling depression, asking for advice.  I have had messages from a few others with their own questions and conversations regarding their families or themselves.  I even respond to most of these.  This makes me feel important and rewarded. 

    I like to think my voice is helpful to the suffering, in avoiding parenting pitfalls, aiding public health, and battling the stigma of unknown, misunderstood conditions.    I feel a strong duty to speak out on issues of disability, mental healthhealth reform, or ethics in an effort to improve the system.  As far as I am concerned, the more people that here that voice, the better, regardless of whether or not they show up on my blog counter. 

     However, the MD behind my handle is used to promote credibility.  I have noticed there are a lot of individuals marketing themselves in this community as “life coaches,” fitness gurus, basically wellness experts.  I don’t know the qualifications of any of these people.  Indeed, I hope they are wonderful and making a difference for people, but if anyone can bill themselves as an expert, what does the word “expert”, really eventually mean?

       In Wellsphere’s life as a physician community, for example, You are likely to find Naturopathic doctors hanging out in abundance, right along with the MDs and DOs. 

    These may be wonderful people, extraordinarily skilled at their trade for all I know.  The thing is, unlike allopathic medicine, naturopathy is unregulated.  They can claim all kinds of things based on anecdotal evidence and never have to worry. 

     Their training can vary wildly.  The scientific rigor of their practice can vary even more wildly.  This atmosphere is a haven for charlatans and snake oil purveyors.  Again, Caveat Emptor

    Sites like Wellsphere will continue on with or without me.  Even without the traffic, even giving away intellectual property, I value any exposure I can get in my backwater corner of the internet.  This is why I joined.  This would be why I would stay. 

      Manybloggers, includingthose   whose writings I have longadmired, and whose opinions I really respect, are in an uproar over the idea of blogging to line someone elses pockets.   They have bigger readership and more success than I.  Perhaps they have more to lose.  They also have a point.

       The creative commons approach is a good way to keep certain conflicts of interest from business and making a buck at bay.   However, politics will always creep in somehow.  It’s human nature.

     My question regarding Wellsphere for anyone who suffered to the end of this post is this, should I stay or should I go?  Please leave comments explaining why or why not, or if it even matters.

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   Tagged: alternative medicine, Blogging, business, capitalism, complementary medicine, creative commons, health, healthcare, intellectual property, profit, publishing, scams   
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