Few medical bloggers cite original research: Dal study
The researchers at Dal's Social Media Lab sampled 3,005 blogs on diabetes and 2,246 articles published between 2008-2009 referencing a specific kind of blood glucose measurement - glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) - a relatively new, but an important piece of biomedical knowledge essential for the proper management of diabetes. Researchers found that only 308 blogs directly cited one or more journal articles in their sample group.
School of Information Management professor and co-author of the study, Fiona Black, says researchers chose to focus on diabetes because of the increasing rates of diabetes around the world and the likelihood that many people would be blogging about the topic.
Narrowing the field of research enabled the team to define specific search terms and ensure the relevancy of their findings. One of the terms was HbA1c - a form of haemoglobin used to gauge glucose levels in the blood stream, helping those with diabetes control their blood sugar levels.
"There are assumptions around what people go to the blogosphere for and there is an enormous amount of health information in the blogosphere," says Black. "Laypeople were referring to HbA1c if they started using it as a measure themselves or had heard about it,
While the research shows there is a gap between the blogosphere and medical professionals, Black said, "The most influential blogs as measured by those linking to it, were written by diabetes patients who tended not to cite biomedical literature."
"People who have a condition become experts on their own condition," said Black.
The study concluded that bloggers who discussed HbA1c as a blood sugar measure are more likely to turn to the blogosphere as a means to make personal connections and to share stories.
Black says a possible explanation is the complexity of the articles themselves. "Biomedical literature is not written for lay people, sometimes not even for doctors. It is written for other researchers."
Doctors know best
A Dalhousie student and co-founder of the Dalhousie Diabetes Society, Ali Eftekhar, says students and their families should turn to doctors and support organizations first.
"Whenever you have diabetes, there is the provincial diabetes centre and they would provide you with all the information you need.
Eftekhar's sister was diagnosed 10 years ago with diabetes at the age of three, and he makes sure to stay current on developments in the field.
Conversely, Eftekhar understands students may look up information online.
"If I had some concern, I would look something up, but I would trust what a doctor tells me personally rather than what I find online," he says.