A few days ago, I wrote about the (new) flood of medical weblogs and wondered out loud how we could work together to make weblogs.com (or medical weblogs in general) more useful. There were a few good comments and Nick had some ideas for medblog guidelines. (read the comments of the entry to see Nick's thoughts). I had sent Nick an e-mail offering to gather the "grand rounds" at one predictable URL .. and I wonder if he worried I was trying to take it over. Far from it .. I just want to make it possible for readers to find the grand rounds in one predictable place every week .. ok .. back to what I'm thinkin ..
Making (keeping?) medical weblogs useful.
What do I mean by useful?
The Usefulness Equation:
To be useful, medical information should be relevant to everyday practice, correct (valid) and easy to obtain. Slawson and Shaughnessy describe a formula which relates these three factors in a "Usefulness equation":
I won't repeat the whole discussion of usefulness here. Please review the link above for more detail. The important idea here is that in the past .. when there were only a handful of medical weblogs … they were truly useful. I wrote mine as an effort to provide to myself and my colleagues an important and useful source of information .. and .. yes .. an outlet for my thoughts and concerns.
Nick's commentary describes his appropriate concern for the "outlet" component of weblogs. I've always thought of medical weblogs as a way to provide transparency into the thoughts and actions of real physicians. This sort of transparency is rare, and patients who see how we think may understand more about how to interact with their physicians, how to critically assess the news reports, and ultimately how to care for themselves better.
So the readers of medical weblogs could be:
Patients (aka real humans)
Students (medical, pre-med, high school, etc)
Health Industry Workers .. (from executives to bench scientists to nurse assistants)
and so on ..
And I suppose that the view of the usefulness of a post (or weblog) depends on the perspective of the reader. When I post a lot about technology or dry medical topics, my wife complains that she misses the reflections of the life of a family physician. But would Nick complain if I whine too much about life in my practice?
A good (useful) medical weblog will weave the clinical usefulness with the personal components — just as any good teacher will weave the content they want to convey into an interesting an compelling tapestry.
Sydney and Dr Bob make liberal use of cutting and pasting from the text of important articles in addition to linking to them. This increases the usefulness of their posts, since it reduces the work. Fewer clicks for the reader — no need to follow the link .. read read read .. click "back" and then read the bloggers commentary.
So how do we improve Medlogs.com to filter the blogs/posts in a way that causes the most useful to bubble up to the top? It's NOT the most linked-to blogs (like the Daypop top 40) that are the most useful … and I would agree that it's not likely the most "hits" from the medlogs home page.
This week, Kevin (next week's Grand Rounds editor) posted a request for people to send him suggestions for inclusion in the Grand Rounds. I would assume that people who think a given post is suitable for consideration means that the post is useful. Hmm. But this isn't automatic. A long-term sustainable solution would not require so much work on the part of Kevin (reading the e-mails, following links, etc) .. nor would it require so much work from those suggesting the posts.
Would a scoring system work? Let's say … we had a little hunk of code that would be embedded in everyone's weblog that would create a little form with every post like with radio buttons .. rating the post on its usefulness from 1 – 5. The forms would submit to medlogs, which would track the ratings and then generate a "most useful" page of the most useful blog posts .. and perhaps another with a list of the recent posts from the most useful blogs. Hmm ..