[NEW STUDY] Investigating Biomedical Research Literature in the Blogosphere

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The internet is many things to many people, but for people who are sick or have a medical condition, it is a first-line medical adviser on-call.

It has been estimated that almost 80% of Internet users have searched for health information on the web. Among web 2.0 applications, blogs have emerged as a powerful medium through which computer-literate individuals turn to for medical information. But, as with most things on the web, questions remain: how much can you trust the medical information that you find in the blogosphere? Is it correct and up-to-date?

To help answer these questions, members of the Dalhousie Social Media Lab including Dr. Anatoliy Gruzd and his colleague Dr. Fiona Black, along with their now former students Thi Ngoc Yen Le and Kathleen Amos conducted a study to find out whether, and how biomedical literature is cited in the blogosphere. Their newly released study, published in the current issue of the Journal of the  Medical Library Association examines the dissemination patterns of peer reviewed medical articles about glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c), an important piece of biomedical knowledge critical to the proper management of diabetes. The result of their study shows that only 10% of the 3,005 blogs analyzed cite at least 1 article from the data set of 2,246 articles on glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c). And that the most influential blogs, as measured by in-links, are written by diabetes patients and tend not to cite biomedical literature. The study clearly shows that there is a large communication gap between health professionals and popular personal diabetes blogs. The implication here is that, while the blogosphere is a great place for diabetes patients to seek  emotional support and exchange personal stories, they should not rely on popular diabetes blogs for authoritative and up-to-date medical information.

This study is part of the Social Media Lab ongoing research on how social media, blogs and other web 2.0 technologies are changing the ways in which people communicate and disseminate information. The abstract to the paper is below. Free copy of the full paper is available here.

Investigating biomedical research literature in the blogosphere: a case study of diabetes and glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c)

Anatoliy Gruzd, PhD; Fiona A. Black, PhD; Thi Ngoc Yen Le, MEC; Kathleen Amos, MLIS, AHIP
(First published in the Journal of the Medical Library Association, J Med Libr Assoc 2012 January; 100(1) : 34-42) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257491/pdf/mlab-100-01-34.pdf

  • Objective: The research investigated the relationship between biomedical literature and blogosphere discussions about diabetes in order to explore the role of Web 2.0 technologies in disseminating health information. Are blogs that cite biomedical literature perceived as more trustworthy in the blogosphere, as measured by their popularity and interconnections with other blogs?
  • Methods: Web mining, social network analysis, and content analysis were used to analyze a large sample of blogs to determine how often biomedical literature is referenced in blogs on diabetes and how these blogs interconnect with others in the health blogosphere.
  • Results: Approximately 10% of the 3,005 blogs analyzed cite at least 1 article from the dataset of 2,246 articles. The most influential blogs, as measured by inlinks, are written by diabetes patients and tend not to cite biomedical literature. In general, blogs that do not cite biomedical literature tend not to link to blogs that do.
  • Conclusions: There is a large communication gap between health professional and personal diabetes blogs. Personal blogs do not tend to link to blogs by health professionals. Diabetes patients may be turning to the blogosphere for reasons other than authoritative information. They may be seeking emotional support and exchange of personal stories.

Highlights

  • Networks of blogs relating to diabetes care tend to be in distinct realms: those that cite authoritative biomedical literature and those that do not cite such literature.
  • Bloggers who are not health professionals may be unaware of the availability of biomedical literature.

Implications

  • Biomedical literature is important for health decisions. Discussions in the blogosphere that may influence decisions by patients may not be drawing on the literature.
  • Diabetes patients and their caregivers’ blogs connect with each other in the blogosphere. This may be more for emotional than for informational support.
  • Health communicators and information professionals might work more closely together to aid diabetes patients by enabling blogging, some of which might help interpret recent biomedical literature or link directly to articles in MedlinePlus.

CitationAnatoliy Gruzd, Fiona A. Black, Thi Ngoc Yen Le, Kathleen Amos (2012). Investigating biomedical research literature in the blogosphere: a case study of diabetes and glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) Journal of the Medical Library Association, 100 (1), 34-42