Last week at the BlogWorldExpo new media conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, the medical blogosphere staked its first claim, with the very first medblogger track taking place on October 15th.  The medblogger track was co-sponsored by Johnson & Johnson and MedPage Today, and they flew us out there and put us up, which was quite jazzy of them.  (Actually, the whole thing started with Kim on Emergiblog raising her voice.  She got this ball rolling, big time.)  I joined the BetterHealth crew and represented for the patient bloggers.

And by “represented,” I mean that out of four different panels totaling 16 participants, I was the only patient blogger panelist.  I stood out as the “one without a medical degree” and there are no initials after my name, but I did my best to show the medical blogosphere that patients are a powerful voice in this community, and that we are a growing group in the blogosphere as a whole.

I participated on the “The State of the Health Blogosphere:  We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” panel, with fellow panelists Kevin Pho of Kevin, MD and Nick Genes of Blogborygmi, moderated by the always-fabulous Kim McAllister of Emergiblog.  And we went first, which was both nerve-wracking and exciting – nothing like kicking off the BlogWorldExpo medblogger track!

Photo courtesy of Doctor Anonymous.

We discussed how we all started in the blogosphere, citing who was already out there when we started our blogs (and I mentioned good ol’ Scott Johnson as one of my favorite originals!), and how the public perceived blogs back in the day.  (Back in the day being like 2004/2005 – the Internet is a time warp.)   I talked about how I wanted to find others living with diabetes, instead of constantly coming across the internet health horror stories, and when I couldn’t really find what I was looking for, I decided to create it for myself.  

“It took me a while to say the word ‘blog’ without stretching out the ‘O’ a lot.  ‘Blaaaaaaaaaaag.’  No one I knew wrote a blog, and they didn’t know what a blog was.  It seemed a little bit like a joke – who the heck is going to want to read this online diary stuff?  But it turns out that I wasn’t the only one who was looking for other people living with diabetes.  And once the comments started, and the emails from complete, warm-hearted strangers started coming in, I realized the impact that patient blogs could have on other patients.”

“But I also realized the intense impact that blogging could have on me.  It made me feel like I had a place to share the emotional side of my disease, emotions that I battled constantly but doctors didn’t really ask much about.”

It was a very cool experience, sitting there as a panelist with Kevin and Nick, two influential medical bloggers who represent the practitioner perspective with class and confidence, knowing that patient bloggers are now part of this conversation.  It’s not just a bunch of doctors sitting around, talking about our diseases and our conditions without having a portal into what real life is like with that disease.  Now they can tune into our patient blogs and get that perspective, one that could help shape the way they deal with their patients.  Our voices, as patients and the caregivers of patients, are crucial in the greater medical blogging discussion. 

I missed the memo on the crossed arms thing.

There was also a lot of discussion about Grand Rounds, the premier medical blog carnival created by Nick Genes.  Everyone on the panel pretty much agreed that Grand Rounds were an extremely effective way to get a weekly snapshot of the best of the medical blogosphere.  “I can’t remember where I first stumbled upon Grand Rounds, but it seemed like the perfect way for me, a diabetes patient blogger, to connect with other medical bloggers outside of my diabetes bubble.  It was like literary networking.”

And we also touched upon the recent Federal Trade Commission discussions about requiring blogger disclosure, which thankfully many of the medbloggers already have covered.  (And for the patient bloggers, guys – sign up for the Patient Code of Ethics badge and make sure you have a full, prominently displayed disclosure on your blog.  This FTC thing could come to find some of us, so make sure you’re making a preemptive strike by being fully transparent with your relationships.)  From what we discussed, it seems like anything over $11,000 dollars may require full disclosure, but the panel agreed that all health bloggers should be disclosing as many relationships as possible, regardless of the dollar amount involved.

But of course, I managed to embarrass myself a little bit.  I had to admit to being a little starstruck when it came to hanging out with the doctor bloggers.  “After several months of blogging, I’d connected with many other diabetes bloggers.  But I knew there was a whole host of other medical bloggers – the doctors.  And I was fascinated by them because as far as I was concerned, I viewed my doctor almost how I viewed my grade school teachers:  they lived in their offices, they slept in the closet, and if I ever saw them at the grocery store, I almost died of shock that they actually ATE FOOD.”  (And, for the record, the doc bloggers eat food.  And drink wine.  And have been caught singing karaoke at dinner, but I’m not mentioning that yet.  Whoops.)

The crew at BlogWorldExpo '09, crashing Dr. A's podcast.

Blogs are credible sources for information, if you pick your sites right, and they can really help to improve people’s health.  We’re able to share the real stuff that we deal with, from the actual trenches.  And while patients are connecting with one another and we’re sharing best practices and gripe sessions, I think that doctors and nurses who read us are reminded that patients are more than their diseases or conditions.  We’re people, too.  You might even see us in the grocery store one day.

Or crashing Doctor Anonymous’s podcast while he tries to broadcast from the expo floor at BlogWorldExpo ’09.