Thursday, January 8, 2009

by Neil Seeman

Canada's most widely read major newspapers are outperforming health blogs on reporting important clinical content. However, both newspapers and health blogs are performing poorly in this regard. Major Canadian newspapers (on average) covered just 37% of what clinical experts considered critically important medical news in 2007. By comparison, the most popular 50 health blogs, on average, covered just 23% of these stories. However, these averages obscure important findings. When isolating general interest health blogs - a minority of the top 50 health blogs, most of which cater to a particular illness, such as diabetes or autism - one finds that, in all instances, these general interest blogs fare at least as well as and usually significantly better than general interest newspapers in reporting critical medical stories. The most popular such general interest health blogs include The Wall Street Journal's health blog (, The Health Care Blog ( and Kevin M.D. Medical Weblog (

Also revealing is the overall performance of the 50 leading health blogs, as compared with popular newspapers, on the governance criteria measured in this analysis. The vast majority ( > 90%) of these popular health blogs lack drug industry sponsorship or overt partisanship that is readily detectable by the user. By comparison, drug industry sponsorship of events (other than direct-to-consumer advertisements) is not uncommonly seen in Canadian newspapers; and all major newspapers in Canada offer overt partisan commentary on health and medical issues on the editorial page - the "official voice" of the newspaper - and these editorials are usually written by anonymous editorial writers who rarely possess any clinical credentials.

As Figure 1 illustrates, health blogs can stand to do a better job of avoiding general industry sponsorship and offering users clear confidence regarding the privacy of user-submitted content. By comparison, newspapers fall down entirely on these scores, with no major newspapers in Canada prohibiting industry sponsorship or providing prominent assurances to letter writers (online or in print) that their submitted health content will be kept private in a manner that observes the Health on the Net Foundation code of conduct (HONcode) or equivalent privacy practices. Finally, 60% of the most popular health blogs are moderated partially or fully by SMEs, usually practising clinicians. The same cannot be said of major Canadian newspapers, whose health reporters and editors seldom have any clinical or graduate-level credentials in any health-related field. In many cases, newspapers do not have dedicated health editors.

More on this topic here.

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