Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pharmacist blogging

Recently, both the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association and the American Journal of Health-Systems Pharmacy have had articles that have discussed the use of blogs by pharmacists. After reading the articles and their conclusions, I decided to share my thoughts on the topic.

First for some personal blogging history. Up until four years ago, I didn't even know what a blog was. Then I had to take some time off for knee surgery and was out of the pharmacy for three months. My physician did not allow me to drive my vehicle for the first 2-1/2 months, so I spent a lot of time, I mean a lot of time in my house playing on the computer.

One day I was searching for something and I stumbled upon a blog written by a nurse in Pennsylvania. It was written very well and gave some insights into her profession. I followed some of the links on her page and read other nurse and physician blogs. Eventually I found a couple pharmacy blogs that I liked and began to read them. Once I returned to work, it didn't take me long to start my own blog.

With my first blog, I remained anonymous. Just like all of the other blog authors. I used the blogging process to vent my frustrations with my job. Bad experience with a patient... I'd change details but still vent about it. Insurer screwing the pharmacy over... blog post. All of the little things that got under my skin were fair game. Some days I would post minutes after an incident happened in the pharmacy.

Then I had an article that I submitted to Drug Topics get published. The email response to my article was amazing. That article was the first time that I had my own thoughts attributed to my own name. I liked the idea that people would know who was behind the thoughts. It didn't take long for me to stop writing that blog, remove most of the posts, and no longer identify with that blog persona.

But enough of my history. Let's get back to the two articles.

Both articles mention the negativity of the content of the blogs. I totally understand where the blog authors are coming from. A lot of pharmacists feel like their comments are not taken seriously by upper levels of management. The blog posts are a means to share feelings and frustrations without revealing who you are. If you send an email in a corporate setting, your name is attached to your comments forever. The anonymity of blogging is a security blanket. The comments that follow a post let the author know that they are not alone in their thoughts.

In blog posts, pharmacists share their interactions with patients. Most of the time these posts may appear to paint the patient in a not-so-good manner. I hate to say it, but my experiences over the past 15+ years as a licensed pharmacist mimic those that are blogged. Patient health literacy is poor. People aren't concerned about their disease states, they just want a pill to fix their problems. People don't want to accept personal responsibility for their health conditions. And as long as the manufacturers are able to continue with their DTC advertising, why should people take the responsibility? These types of posts are simply a commentary on what our society has become.

The articles mention that the pharmacy blogs are an early warning system for what is happening in the profession of pharmacy. I totally agree. I honestly believe that the pharmacist bloggers can spread the word on workplace and professional issues much better than any organization. When a pharmacist blogs, there is no peer-review process that slows down the publication. If I have a thought to share, it's out there as fast as my fingers can fly over my keyboard. Journals and other publications take months to share information.

With the speed that the health-care system is changing, we can't sit back and wait for the national and state pharmacist organizations to evaluate, study, form an opinion on new legislation, then share it with the pharmacists. Pharmacists need a fluid environment to get thoughts out to be discussed. Blogs provide that.

As for professionalism within the blog posts. I can only speak for myself and say that I try to remain professional. I keep the language clean and try not be overly critical of patients. I'm putting my name to my writing and I am owning my words. When you identify who you are, you watch what you say. Some other bloggers use more colorful language in their posts. I don't pay much attention to the words as to the message that the author is trying to convey.

As I mentioned in my state of the profession series, local pharmacist organizations are practically non-existent these days. The chains have scheduled pharmacists to the point that we don't have time to meet after work to discuss issues that we face as a profession. Maybe that's the role that pharmacist blogs are playing in our digital world. The combination of different types of blogs is simply a reflection of the different personalities that would be at the meeting. Some people are story-tellers. Some people share currents trends in the workplace. Others just sit back and take it all in. By evaluating all of the commentary that is put out there, blog readers can get a pretty good idea of what is happening in the profession.


pharmacy chick said...

wow, blogs made mainstream publications...do you have a link to that article?

Happy New year Eric!

pharmacy chick said...

Leave it to APhA to have their site down.. They dont do much right anyway...looking for that article.

Anonymous said...

Great analysis, and nice to 'meet you'.

The Redheaded Pharmacist said...

I think there is an honesty and frankness to many pharmacy blogs that takes some from within the profession by surprise. Bloggers can reveal the inner workings of a profession and shine a light on the darker sides of the profession that many people would just assume ignore or even deny. We also can give first hand accounts of some of the shortcomings of the healthcare system by describing case studies of what has gone wrong with the drug delivery side of healthcare. And as you point out the speed of the delivery of a blog's information gives us an advantage over say a monthly print magazine.

One of the things I struggled with when I started my blog was the decision to remain annonymous as well as what my blog's purpose or goal would be. Would I be overly critical of patients or my employer? Should I remain annonymous simply to add that extra layer of protection for patients so their privacy is never in danger even though I am careful to never use specifics or real patient names? It didn't help that I was completely new to blogging and was clueless on how it all worked.

I have made a very conscious effort to avoid becoming overly negative on my blog. And yes, I do have my fair share of frustrations that I could spend all my time regurgitating in words online for the world to read. And sometimes I do write about them. But I didn't want to simply focus on the negatives all the time. I wanted to create a forum for discussion and debate regarding some of the issues that are affecting our great profession. I hope I've accomplished that goal.

I think in this day and age of 12 plus hour shifts and heavy workloads the average pharmacist might not have time to get involved with their local or state pharmacy organizations. But a blog gives pharmacists the opportunity to spend a few minutes here or there catching up with the profession. Blogs fit our busy lifestyles better because we can enjoy them whenever we have the time.

Eric Durbin, RPh said...


Check your email.

Michael Guzzo said...

Seriously, is what the herd followers at ASHP or APhA thinks about pharmacy bloggers important?

Eric Durbin, RPh said...

Maybe the two articles will get some of the "herd followers" to check out pharmacy blogs. They can be exposed to ideas that the organizations don't or won't discuss.

Bitter Young Pharmacist said...

I was highly involved in the few pharmacy organizations that I found relevant (locally and nationally) as a student (and they weren't APhA or ASHP). After graduating and moving back to my home state, there are no active pharmacy organizations to speak of. I don't have the ability to be very active at the national level for now, for many reasons. But it is very upsetting to me that I can't find a way to interact with others in my profession- in a professional manner.

I'm have one of the blogs with the "colorful" language. That's how I speak at home, that's how I speak when I'm angry. That's the same passion I applied to my professional activities when able to.

I am someone who would be willing to try and re-engage the pharmacy community, but it's true, my employer wouldn't allow me the time necessary to do so. I might get away with it on occasion, but the level of involvement required to get that kind of thing going just isn't achievable by me right now. I need my sleep, I want to see my husband.

I'm not sure where things will go when it comes to pharmacists as members of a community- but being involved through blogs and other e-venues is certainly a way to maintain some sense of interaction with other pharmacists besides your co-workers.