Frustrated doctor bloggers can consult a specialist: a ghostwriter

A practical look at information technology issues and usage

By — Posted Nov. 19, 2012.

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Taking the time to sit down and write blog posts is yet another thing on the list of tasks many physicians will probably never find time for — even if they believe it’s a valuable way to share information and communicate with patients.

But some writers and services are pitching to let them — for a fee, of course — create websites and blog content for physicians. Experts said this can be a viable option for time-pressed physicians. However, they said doctors should watch freelance writers closely, and cautioned there might be times when there is no one but the physician who can write a post.

“It’s a tricky business,” said Susan Tellem, RN, a health care public relations professional from Malibu, Calif. “Some doctors who are experts love writing their own content with some help cleaning it up, and other doctors are just too busy or don’t have the inclination to write but still feel it is important to reach consumers with up-to-date and correct health information.”

Jenna Woodul, executive vice president and chief community officer at LiveWorld, a user content management company, said before physicians farm out work, they should consider two questions: Is your blog meant only to inform your patients, colleagues or clients by curating content for them? Or is it meant to engage your patients, colleagues or clients?

Blogs meant to inform

The idea of physicians using a ghostwriter for an article is not new. Doctors often use them to write columns and editorials for local newspapers. “It’s no different in my book than writing op-eds or brochures or other pieces that we have done as PR professionals for many years,” Tellem said.

However, the appeal of hiring an outside writer is that a blog or website creates a need for frequently updated posts and immediate one-to-one online interaction that doesn’t happen in print.

“The majority of docs simply do not have enough time in the day to write content,” Tellem said. “Farming out assignments is perfectly OK as long as the ghostwriters have a firm understanding of the specialty and the doctors’ quirks and messages.”

So where do you find writers? There are several “micro job” sites online where people offer to do a specific job, including writing. The sites are good for finding inexpensive labor. But experts warn that physicians might get what they pay for — as in little quality for a low price. Physicians should request writing samples and talk extensively and honestly about the job and ensure that pieces sound like they wrote them.

There are professional writers with the necessary skills, but hiring one will not be cheap. Tellem estimates that a professionally written article or blog post could cost $500 to $1,000 for a long, well-researched entry. Producing blog or website content could be part of an overall contract with a PR firm that would include social media promotions, press outreach and other services. The contracts could cost a practice up to several thousand dollars a month.

Regardless of the route a physician takes to hire them, a writer should know health care and the physician’s specialty, Tellem said.

Woodul also warns that physicians who hire people to generate content still will need to stay up to date on what is being posted on the blog. Readers are likely to respond to the content with comments the physician must answer.

Blogs for boosting relationships

If a blog’s goal is to strengthen the relationship with patients, Woodul said, hiring content generators “may not get you where you want to go.”

“True social media engagement relies on authentic personalities interacting with other people — providing their unique perspectives and responding to those of others,” she said.

Since 2009, internist Marc Leavey, MD, has been using his personal blog to put into writing his ideas about topics he has either talked about with patients or the local media. Although he realizes he may reach a wider audience by posting with the help of outside writers, he considers the blog a resource for his patients, so it’s more important that they read his voice.

“If you have a blog, it should be your body of work,” said Dr. Leavey, an internist at Lutherville (Md.) Personal Physicians.

Woodul said writing and editing services still can help if a physician doesn’t feel he or she is a great writer or lacks the passion for it. But because it’s important for their voice and point of view to come through, doctors should be very involved in the process even if they farm out the work. “You’ll still need to spend time providing content to your helpers, who can then put your blog and/or comment responses into viable prose,” she said. “In a situation like this, you really are the source of the material, and authenticity/authorship are not really in question.”

Dan Dunlop, a health care marketer and brand consultant in North Carolina, agrees that it’s best for physicians to generate their own content. But, he said, they might consider hiring a consultant to teach them how to manage it all efficiently by using online tools.

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