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Outsourcing Relationships And Peddling Influence: Why Social Media Is Not Fun Anymore

When I first started blogging in 2006, the medical blogosphere consisted of a small group of physicians, nurses, and patient advocates. We knew each other well, and spent time each day visiting our favorite blogs and posting personal comments of encouragement and insight. We developed real friendships, and were optimistic about our brave new online writing frontier. We thought we could change the healthcare system for the better, we believed that our perspectives could influence policy, and we were sure that our writing could help our patients lead healthier lives.

I remember with great fondness the medical blogger conference that I attended in Las Vegas in 2009. It was the first time I’d met most of my blog friends in real life (IRL) – it was like seeing your favorite pen pals after years of correspondence. We talked all night, had marveled at how a love of writing had brought together a surgeon from South Africa, an ER nurse from California, and a Canadian rehab physician, among others. We figured that social media was the glue that held us all together. Since then, I am sad to say that for me, the glue has lost its stickiness due to dilution by third parties and a glut of poor quality content dividing attentions and exhausting our brains’ filter system.

Fast forward 7 years and most of my email correspondence is from strangers wanting to embed text links in my blog, people selling SEO services, or PR agencies inviting me to provide free coverage of their industry-sponsored conferences and webinars. I can’t think of a single friend who has left a comment on my blog in the past three months. Sure we see each other’s updates on Facebook and occasionally on Twitter, but I can’t remember the last real conversation we’ve had. Social Media has become irreversibly cluttered, and I’ve never felt more isolated or guarded about the future of medical writing.

My thoughts on this subject gelled when Twitter announced that LeBron James was following me (along with a select 80,000+ others). Obviously, LeBron has no idea who I am, and I’m almost certain he had nothing to do with his Twitter account following me. He, like many others, has outsourced his online relationship-making. It’s the ultimate irony – using social media to distance yourself from others, while maintaining an appearance of engagement. Sort of like sending a blow up doll of yourself to a party.

So what keeps some people going on these social media platforms? Perhaps it’s the allure of influence – the idea that many people are listening to you gives a sense of importance and meaning to your efforts. But take a cold hard look at your followers – do you know who most of them are? Or is there a large group of “hotchick123″ type Twitter accounts counted among them? I used to block followers who didn’t seem real or relevant, but it became so much of a chore that I couldn’t keep up. I was overwhelmed by the Huns.

One could argue that my social media fatigue  is my own fault – I didn’t screen my followers properly, I didn’t follow the “right” people, I haven’t curated my friendships with as much care as I ought to… But I know I’m not alone in my pessimism. A recent Pew Research poll suggests that people are leaving Facebook at a rapid rate. And as far as Twitter is concerned, it’s not for everyone.

I guess the bottom line for me is that social media isn’t as much fun as it used to be. I miss my blog friends, I miss the early days of being part of an online community. I don’t write as much as I used to because I don’t know my audience by name anymore. This “party” is full of strangers and I don’t like the familiarity that continues in the absence of true friendship.

Time to spend more of my energy on my patients, family, and friends IRL. And that’s a good lesson for a doctor to learn…

Dr. Val: Back By Popular Demand?

I started medical blogging in 2006, and posted something new every day for over two years straight. I met some terrific fellow bloggers in those “early years”, and soon wondered if we might reach a larger audience if we pooled some of our blog content. This blog site (Better Health) was born in October 2008, and soon grew to have over 130 contributors! We developed a large following on Facebook and Twitter and partnered with such prestigious organizations as the CDC, Harvard Health Publications, and the American College of Physicians. We actually grew so large so fast that I had to hire a small staff to help me run the blog… Which became logistically challenging and pretty expensive, rather quickly!

Because Better Health has always been a labor of love, and not a well- oiled, monetization machine, I eventually had to close the doors. It broke my heart. It was such a shame that a collection of the best medical blog writing just couldn’t be supported financially – at least I couldn’t find a way to do so! In January 2012 I posted a farewell note and decided to continue my social media life on Twitter and Facebook instead.

A few days ago I noticed a large uptick in Twitter followers and was surprised to see that I had been recommended (by Healthcare IT News) as one of the top 10 physicians to follow on Twitter. In the article it commended my work as a Better Health blogger… the blog that I had recently shuttered.

I had been toying with the idea of starting a personal blog again because I found it rather challenging to say all I wanted in only 140 characters, and this new influx of followers gave me food for thought. What if I just keep it simple this time? What if I write blog posts at Better Health when the spirit moves (instead of feeling pressured to post something every day or to include 100′s of others in my blog posts?)

So that’s what I’m going to do. This is just me again – the way it all began. But without any regard for traffic, numbers, or popularity. Maybe only a handful of people will read my posts here. And that’s ok with me! So welcome back to the OLD new me. The cycle is complete?

P.S. I will continue to blog at Healthline to educate patients about their eyes, and I also hope you’ll listen in to my Healthy Vision radio show. Or follow @drval on Twitter?

Review Of 2011 Predictions In The World Of Health Care

How Did My 2011 Predictions Turn Out?

Pretty well, actually.

As predicted last December, there was no big change to health care reform, doctors still didn’t have enough time with their patients, Microsoft (disclosure: Microsoft is a Best Doctors client) made moves to create a “Windows” for electronic health records, and “ACO” became the hot buzzword in health care.  Some state governments started major redesigns of their benefits programs, saving money in the same ways private sector employers do.  Meanwhile, more than ever, private sector employers are penalizing employees who don’t take care of themselves.

Misdiagnosis finally started to be recognized as a public health problem.  At Best Doctors we got a great deal of press coverage in 2011 on this (for a few examples, go here, here, here, here and here).  I will sneak in a 2012 prediction and tell you that you will hear a lot more about this this year, and not just from us.

What did I get wrong? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at See First Blog*

On Alzheimer’s, Death, And Patients With Intellectual Disabilities

The Boerewors Emergency Medicine Chronicles has a great post which I think is worth your time:  On alzheimer’s

……..…I think it is beautifully written and provides a real window into the difficulty of loving someone who has this disease.

“The thing with this sentence, this arrest of dementia, is that its greatest victims aren’t those who have it. That’s not to say that the diagnosis isn’t dreadful for the recipient, but there is a peculiar and particular hammering sadness for those that love and care for an Alzheimer’s spouse or parent.

It is a wearying and lonely obligation, but with the added cruelty that the person you’re looking after vanishes, escapes before your eyes. In the end, you’re caring for the case that someone came in………”


Check out this post from @JordanGrumet who blogs at In My Humble OpinionFrom Birth To Death Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Suture for a Living*

The Tired Medical Blogger

Ever feel like you’re kind of stuck and you need a change? I was there last week. With the upcoming Thanksgiving week, life was adding more stress that was difficult to handle. For weeks now, I felt like I was taking all my efforts and playing catch up. Don’t get me wrong. I’m very happy where I’m at right now professionally and personally. I was just tired.

“Social Media Fatigue” is a dirty little secret that the early adopters never write about – especially those in health care social media. That’s why I was surprised when a few months ago, my good friend, Seattle Mama Doc wrote the post “Online Sabbitical.”

I’m taking an online sabbatical this month. Consider this an act of both self-reflection and self-awareness but also an act of self-preservation. As any blogger knows, blogging every few days, taking photographs daily, approving and responding to comments 24 hours a day (7 days a week), while authoring content in your head every few paces, is an entirely consuming experience. Blogging has completely changed my life. And this job is an utter privilege… But I’ve been consuming media, blogging, and authoring content without reprieve since November 11, 2009.

Now, my blogging frequency and my podcast frequency have Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Family Medicine Rocks Blog*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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