Right now, Zika virus is in the news in a big way. It’s scary, because it’s spread by mosquitos, which are everywhere; it’s emotionally gripping because it largely affects pregnant women and babies; and it’s being discussed almost everywhere, by almost everyone, because the more people worry, the more they talk.
Informed, accurate commentary is in high demand.
It’s nothing new. In 2014, it was ebola. In 2009, it was swine flu. Any time an epidemic grows and starts crossing borders — or oceans — the same conversations arise, accompanied by the same fears, the same misapprehensions, and the same need for good information.
Blogging — particularly when a specific medical issue is at the prominent forefront — can be a great marketing opportunity for a medical professional. A good piece provides exposure, establishes expertise on the subject, and educates the public on an issue that’s currently of great concern to them. If you’re going to blog on a timely medical topic, though, it’s crucial to do so responsibly. A few questions to ask yourself as you prepare to weigh in:
It isn’t necessary to establish your own blog to get your message out there. Many local media outlets have blogs that accept guest posts, and as do news aggregators like the Huffington Post. While there’s no guarantee that your post will be picked up, it’s worth the effort to make the pitch — a well-written post on a timely, gripping subject is likely to be very attractive to their editors. (Different sites have different submission rules, so be sure to check and follow the rules to give your post the chance it deserves.)
However, if you think you can commit a little more time and keep up a regular posting schedule, having your own blog is a great way to draw positive attention. You get great SEO value by providing the medical information that people are desperately Googling for at the moment and associating it with your practice and your expertise. And once you’ve established yourself as a reliable reference, your blog will serve as a resource for people to seek out when future health-related issues arise.
It doesn’t have to be something as major as independent research, but use this opportunity to present something unique.
Even just presenting content in a different tone of voice (do you have a talent for applying humor in a way that’s appropriate for the seriousness of the topic at hand?) can add value to your post. Providing something unique sets you apart from all of the other writers on the subject and makes your invested time worthwhile. It’s that newness, that interesting tone or new perspective, that can make prospective patients think, There’s a physician who knows their stuff.
Not every medical issue is fraught with political undertones, but they can pop up in unexpected places. (Consider the heated discussions that have arisen surrounding vaccination, which you’d think would be a fairly innocuous topic.) As you’re writing, think about the aspects of your subject could evoke strong emotions and responses in your readers.
This isn’t to say you should never address potentially contentious subjects — if you have something to contribute, contribute it — and it’s not to say that every medical subject is a conversational time bomb. That being said, be prepared to address strongly worded responses in your comments section, on the off chance that they appear.
So you want to post about the Zika outbreak: Are you an OB/GYN? A neurologist? A medical ethicist? You don’t have to be an epidemiologist (although if you are, please jump right in — this subject was made for you). Even a travel physician, or a physician who’s traveled a lot, may have enough insight to be able to comment informedly.
You don’t want to risk coming across as anything but the consummate professional that you are, or looking like you aren’t bringing anything new to the discussion.
If this isn’t your area of expertise, it’s okay to sit it out. Your opportunity will come. The medical world isn’t going to get any less interesting or confusing in the near future.
Even if this is your area of expertise, even if you know every answer off the top of your head, even if you’re absolutely sure that you’re right and that your blog post will prove to be the defining source of information about the topic at hand, double check everything. Ensure every fact, statistic, conclusion, and minor nuance is accurate before you hit “publish.”
It can make you an oasis of reason and rationality in a time of panic. And in a desert full of sensationalism and cacti, that’s the kind of oasis that prospective patients, prospective referrers, and even the news media seek out for a refreshing sip of levelheaded expertise.