Like many blogs in the pharmacy world, Jerry Fahrni’s started with a gripe. “I was talking with my brother, who’s a software engineer, and complaining that pharmacy was behind the times on something related to information technology,” recalls Dr. Fahrni, now a product manager in pharmacy automation with Talyst. “My brother said, ‘You should write about this. Why don’t you start a blog?’”
Dr. Fahrni’s brother introduced him to the blogging platform WordPress and offered him space on a server he runs. It took five minutes to set up jerryfahrni.com, and Dr. Fahrni was off and running with his first post, eager to share a solution he’d found to a niggling problem in generating Access database reports. “I thought, hey, people might be interested in that!” he said. That was in April 2009, and he hasn’t stopped blogging since.
“When I first got started, I had a ton of stuff to say, so I literally blogged every day for a year,” Dr. Fahrni said. “While I was sitting on the couch watching TV with my family, having down time, a thought would occur to me and I’d put up a post. It really only takes me 15 to 20 minutes to write something for the blog. Lately I don’t have quite as much to say, so now I post about two to three times a week, tops.”
Dr. Fahrni is perhaps the best known of a small cadre of pharmacy bloggers—pharmacists who post regular online journals chronicling their thoughts about pharmacy, news in the field they find interesting, technical solutions to common problems and sometimes, just plain old rants. (Dr. Fahrni’s blog also includes periodic meditations on coffee.)
A 2010 paper in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy (AJHP; 67:2043-2048) used Internet search engines, blog aggregators and blogrolls to identify 44 blogs authored directly by pharmacists, about evenly divided between community and noncommunity pharmacists. Most of them—68.2%—chose to remain anonymous, which may make sense when you consider that 57% of the bloggers had at least a few critical things to say about their patients, and 44% of them posted unkind thoughts about their colleagues.
Another study, published in the Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association (2010;50:714-719), focused on a larger list of “pharmacy-centric blogs”—a total of 136. A substantial chunk of these (44) were rated as strictly “news” blogs, in which the blogger (not necessarily a pharmacist) mostly passed along news from the field that they found interesting, without adding much of their “voice” in commentary. But in the blogs that went beyond purely sharing news, this study also found a lot of what could only be categorized as “ranting.”
“Of the non-news blogs, 63% were judged as promoting a negative impression of pharmacy,” said study author Jeff Cain, EdD, an adjunct associate professor for the Department of Pharmacy Practice & Science and director of education technology for the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy, in Lexington.
But that may be changing, according to Kevin Clauson, PharmD, an associate professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice and director of the Center for Consumer Health Informatics Research at Nova Southeastern University, in Fort Lauderdale-Davie. Dr. Clauson, an author of the AJHP study, noted that the last few years have seen the development of more of what he calls “thoughtful, cautiously optimistic” pharmacist blogs, like The Redheaded Pharmacist and The Blonde Pharmacist (see sidebar).
Rules of the Road for Blogging
Are you considering adding your voice to the rolls of pharmacist blogs? There’s definitely more room for good pharmacy bloggers, noted Dr. Fahrni, who said that there are only a handful that he currently finds worth following. And it’s pretty easy to do, using popular free blogging tools like Blogger (run by Google, so if you already have a Gmail account you’re halfway there) and WordPress. It’s really not that hard to do, he added. “It usually only takes me 15 minutes to put a couple of paragraphs together on my laptop, sometimes while the family is watching TV together in the evening. You don’t have to go into great depth with all these references, although you certainly can if you want. But if you have something to say, say it.”
But don’t jump in without a strategy.
first, said Dr. Cain, think about what you want to accomplish. “What is your purpose? Are you trying to inform other pharmacists and health care providers about issues facing the profession? Is it just informational—you want to share news? Do you have specific areas of pharmacy you want to focus on?”
There’s nothing that says you can’t do a little bit of everything, of course. Dr. Fahrni focuses primarily on technology, both pharmacy technology and tech in general: “Anything new in RfiD [radiofrequency identification] and med carts, new ways to package a tablet, those are my areas,” he said. “But every once in awhile I have an opinion on where pharmacy is going, like the pharmacy practice [model] initiative ASHP kicked out, or maybe I’m in a pharmacy and I have an opinion on the way they’re handling distribution.”
Whatever your blog’s focus, keep this in mind: if you have even the slightest idea that you might, someday, possibly, maybe want to say something remotely critical about your employer or a patient, keep your blog anonymous. An OB/GYN in St. Louis was recently reprimanded by the hospital she works for after she complained about a patient’s tardiness in her Facebook feed, which was set so that anyone could read it; she’d have been better off venting in an anonymous blog.
A few other things to consider:
Privacy is paramount. As with any social media, it’s essential that you observe all of the same patient privacy protection conventions mandated by the HIPAA that you would in an actual clinical setting. Don’t post anything that could potentially be used to identify a patient.
The Internet is forever. “Once your blog post is up, that’s it. Even if you take it down quickly, there’s always the chance it’s been archived,” Dr. Fahrni said.
Don’t blog when you’re angry. That’s why Dr. Fahrni switched from authoring his posts directly in the blogging program, to writing them in a word processing program like Microsoft Word and letting them percolate awhile before copying and pasting the file to his blogging platform. “I had a couple of incidents where I accidentally posted something that I wasn’t ready to put up,” he said. (See item 2 for why that’s a bad thing.)
Check with your employer. Make sure that you won’t run afoul of any company social media policies by starting a blog. It’s always a good idea to include a standard disclaimer such as, “This blog represents my own personal views and not necessarily the views of ABCD Pharmacy.”
Understand the commitment. Blogging takes more commitment than other social media, at least if you want to do it well. You can put out a random Tweet once in awhile or update your Facebook irregularly, but if you don’t post to your blog with some degree of reliability, people will stop following it. Try to adhere to at least a loose schedule for updates—say, every Monday or the 1st and 15th of every month.
Add value. Dr. Clauson frequently embeds his slides from professional conferences using the online PowerPoint community SlideShare (slideshare.net). “I really recommend doing that. Your blog can become almost like an online CV [curriculum vitae], where people can see what you’re publishing and presenting about,” he said.
Be responsive. Blog platforms offer the opportunity for readers to comment (you can set the comment function to be moderated, meaning that you have to approve comment posts before they appear, or unmoderated, which is more Wild West and lets comments appear immediately). Try to respond to any comments that seem to call for your input within a day or two. “Comments back and forth on a blog can develop into more meaningful conversations than in other social media,” Dr. Clauson said. “You can also tell, based on how many times your posts are read or responded to, which topics people perceive to be important or compelling.”
If you want a social media presence, he added, a blog can serve as the hub. “You can link all of your accounts to it: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and so on. A blog can really serve as a lasting repository of your professional presence online. Something like Twitter or Facebook is much less permanent: These streams turn over every day. A blog is more lasting.”
And if you have any doubt that a blog can have an impact on your career in pharmacy, look no further than Dr. Fahrni for proof. “Awhile back, I wrote something on my blog about Talyst equipment that we were using, and it wasn’t very complimentary,” he said. “They reached out to me and asked, ‘What would you do to improve it?’ That started a conversation, and a year and a half later I’m working for them!”
Of course, not all pharmacists will want to start blogs of their own. But any pharmacist can make use of the pharmacy blogs that are already out there. Dr. Clauson shared his own personal pharmacy blogroll (and a few non–pharmacy-specific), with thoughts on why each one is a worthwhile read for anyone in the field.
The Redheaded Pharmacist: Thoughtful posts about the profession by a community pharmacist. http://www.theredheadedpharmacist.com
Eric, Pharmacist: A recovered ranter who tries to offer solutions, not just complaints from his perspective of pharmacy director at a hospital. http://eric-rph.blogspot.com/
Jerry Fahrni, PharmD: Best single blog on pharmacy informatics and technology. http://jerryfahrni.com (Dr. Fahrni also has a separate blog for Talyst at http://talyst.com/blog/jerry-fahrni/.)
Pharmalot: Best source of news on Pharma by a long-time journo-blogger. http://www.pharmalot.com
The Blonde Pharmacist: Hospital pharmacist with accessible, but evidence-based posts frequently about current issues in the profession. http://theblondepharmacist.com
ASHP Connect Blog: For health-system pharmacists; also a great source for info about pharmacy residencies. http://connect.ashp.org/blogs/
RxInformatics: Group blog focused on pharmacy informatics and automation. http://www.rxinformatics.com
33 Charts: Physician who is a pioneer in social media and medical education and practice; a peek at how a physician grapples with issues in his profession. http://33charts.com
Seattle Mama Doc: This pediatrician does a great job using video and other media to connect with and educate her patients; it’s an “official” hospital blog as well. http://seattlemamadoc.seattlechildrens.org/
Unnatural Language Processing: Dr. Clauson was too modest to include his own blog, and he doesn’t post as frequently as some, but when he does it’s always worth the read. http://kevinclauson.com.