Radiology and Web 2.0: Inside the World of Radblogging

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When Sumer Sethi, MD, started his radiology site in 2004, the word blog was still a relatively recent invention, a shortening of the more formal term weblog. “In different fields, people had started to use weblogs as platforms for communicating with readers without the need for an expensive platform or publishing house,” Sethi (editor-in-chief of the Internet Journal of Radiology) says. “I thought, ‘A blog can be my platform to share my radiology cases and ideas online,’ and that got me started.” Samir_ShahToday, Sumer’s Radiology Site (sumerdoc.blogspot.com) is one of the Web’s most popular radiology blogs; Sethi adds a case to the site almost daily. Meanwhile, "radblogging," as it has been nicknamed by Sethi and others, is a growing trend. Samir Shah, a radiologist with Virtual Radiologic (vRad), is a radblogger of a different, but increasingly common, stripe; along with colleagues, he contributes to the nationwide practice’s blog (blog.vrad.com). "We thought it was a good way for our radiologists to get their voices heard," Shah says. "We can communicate a lot of ideas in a rapid fashion.” Sethi sees his blog as an interactive, educational resource for his fellow clinicians: “My readers are radiologists, both practicing and in training, in addition to other physicians interested in radiology. My blog has become a learning resource not just for others, but for me as well—sometimes, when I have a doubt, I Google it and land back on my own page,” he says. Radblogging Versus Academic Writing Radblogging, as it has been nicknamed by Sethi and others, rarely garners so much as a mention in the academic press—and that, he says, is a reflection of both its origins and its potential. “Web 2.0 is not about big publishing houses or static information websites,” Sethi says. “It’s a dynamic, interactive, and pulsating system wherein ordinary people can convey things and get responses. There’s no software to learn or download, and there’s no requirement for membership to become an editor.” Shah also notes the differences between radblogging and traditional publishing. “A lot of us at vRad have academic backgrounds, but academics doesn’t always have to be the way to publish ideas,” Shah notes. “It’s antiquated. It’s more fun, and more suits our tastes, to discuss all sorts of ideas in this forum.” That’s not to suggest that radblogging is a Wild West of information exchange; both Sethi and Shah adhere to certain standards when self-publishing online. Sethi, who often posts images from his own second-opinion practice, ensures that these images are anonymized to comply with HIPAA regulations. He also requires that guest contributors provide references for any clinical information that they provide. At vRad, Shah and his fellow radbloggers “decided to keep our posts a little less controversial,” he says, “and at the end of each post, we ask one thematic question—but that’s it, as far as rules go.” Getting Started As Sethi’s comments highlight, launching a personal radblog is easy; building it into a community, however, requires work. “Try to maintain continuity,” Sethi advises. “Initially, you may not develop an audience, but it builds up gradually. Blog about your niche and your passions, and more people will follow you.” For vRad, the blog “is a relatively new idea,” Shah says. “A lot of people make a lot of assumptions about teleradiology because they don’t know any teleradiologists personally. They go by what they hear." In keeping with Sethi’s advice, Shah found that blogging about new technology—particularly Apple products—was a niche that attracted him. “A lot of people might think, do you really want to be talking so much about Apple? To that I say yes, because that’s what everyone else is talking about.” He says that a recent post about the iPad 3 garnered particular interest from the blog’s readership. “I mentioned some technical specifications of the iPad 3 and some of the software that’s built into it,” he says. “I think I primed the audience to ask the next logical question, which is whether this will be the future platform for PACS.” For practices that want to launch a blog, Shah recommends having a champion (at a high level) to guide neophytes in developing social-media presences while maintaining certain standards. “There are negatives with social media, too,” he notes. “Things can often deteriorate into a lot of trolling and negativity. There are some sites with unmonitored forums, and a lot of people view those as a waste of time. A social-media champion can help your practice avoid those pitfalls and can keep your forums from degenerating into negativity sessions.” The Next Frontiers As Facebook attracted more and more users, Sethi saw the potential to leverage the social-networking site for information exchange as well. “A significant chunk of my blog readers started to come from Facebook,” he says. “I created the Radiology Resident Club to take my activities on social media to the next level of interaction.” Shah has a similar vision for the recently launched Facebook community for vRad clinicians: “It’s a private group for fostering discussions, which is great for when you work at home and don’t always have people there to bounce ideas off of; it’s only been a short time, but it’s been very successful. It keeps us connected when we’re all scattered,” he says. Although the radiology community at large has been slow to embrace social media as a means of education and information exchange, Sethi sees this changing, in the near future, as the Facebook generation of radiologists continues to grow. “Some of the radiologists I know use Twitter very intelligently, and another excellent use of social media is Facebook groups for radiology-exam preparation,” he says. “In the future, I feel we will have more and more radiology-focused social-media platforms, with features focused on image sharing and education.” Shah concurs. “When I came out of practice, 10 years ago, you knew what was happening in your practice, and that was it,” he says. “Nowadays, when I teach residents, they are in tune with all sorts of national trends—they know what’s going on everywhere because they use social media to keep their fingers on the pulse. This is the way radiologists will use the Internet. It goes beyond social networking. There will be a push to share rare and interesting cases this way, and when we can share them nationally, that’s good for health care.” Sethi concludes, “This is only the beginning of the democratization of knowledge in the field of radiology and health care in general. The future looks exciting.” Cat Vasko is editor of Medical Imaging Review and associate editor of Radiology Business Journal.