With all the hoopla surrounding a certain celebrity doctor lately, I wanted to address the importance of providing evidence when you blog. Offering medical advice without evidence to back it up has cost Dr. Oz credibility in the medical community. He’s got a big media machine behind him and will survive the medical world’s critical eye relatively unscathed. But your blog is not produced by Oprah, so if you were to attempt the same approach, it might not work out so well for you.
Big Hat, No Cattle
I live in Texas, and while we don’t all ride horses or live on a farm, we do appreciate the wisdom handed down from those who did. One of my favorite Texas sayings is “Big Hat, No Cattle.” You might call it all flash, no substance.
When health care providers promote treatments or preventive measures that offer truly remarkable results but can’t or won’t supply the research to back the results up, that’s Big Hat, No Cattle right there. The hope is that readers/viewers will be dazzled by fantastic claims and won’t see that the man wearing the hat has never actually set foot on a farm.
The thing about medical blogging is that you don’t get to play on people’s emotions by offering false hope. And the unfortunate fact is treatments that are backed by evidence are seldom all that miraculous. Medicine isn’t glamorous. In fact, sometimes it’s as exciting as a mashed potato sandwich. The opposite of Big Hat, No Cattle. (That’s where good writing comes in.)
Promoting evidence-based, plain old medicine won’t get TV ratings. But evidence based blogging will build respect and do right by your patients.
That Dog Won’t Hunt
Now the bigger issue for most medical providers, fortunately, is not that they are practicing medicine based on popularity rather than evidence. It’s just that it’s easy to assume that other people know what you know. When you are thoroughly familiar with the evidence on a topic, and a certain approach has been standard for a while, it might seem like overkill to tell people about the evidence.
But that dog won’t hunt. most people don’t practice medicine day in and day out. It’s not obvious. It’s not a given. That’s why when you write for your blog, you have to assume that your reader is not familiar with the evidence and provide it for them. You don’t have to treat every blog post like journal club, but at the very least provide a link to the pertinent research with a quick one sentence summary of the take away.
Evidence based blogging builds your credibility. It also gives patients who like to dig into things for themselves resources besides celebrity physicians and websites that are selling products.
Sometimes There Just Isn’t Evidence
The fact is, medicine doesn’t have all the answers. That’s why we still have sickness and death. New research is accumulating everyday, but still, medical providers and patients have to make some choices based on less than convincing evidence.
And that’s okay.
It’s not your fault that there isn’t a clear treatment for every ailment. But it is your responsibility to make clear when a treatment isn’t backed by evidence and to discuss the risks and benefits of available choices. Do this and your patients will know that you’re so honest they could shoot craps with you over the phone.
Take a look at articles you have written and the recommendations in them.
Are your recommendations evidence-based?
Do you offer the source of the evidence if they are? If not go back and edit it with a little bit of info about what the most current evidence suggests.
Are they not evidence-based? If not, and there really isn’t any evidence on the topic, then make sure you explain that in your blog post.
That’s the beauty of blogging. You can, and should, edit information (point out when you do so there is no confusion). Remember, a dead snake can still bite.
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Photo Credit: Ryan McGuire / Gratisography