"KidneyNotes" Filters Medical News for Readers' Entertainment

Nicholas Genes, MD, PhD


May 30, 2006

This week I spoke with Dr. Joshua Schwimmer, the nephrologist behind the always enlightening KidneyNotes Web-log. Not just limited to the kidneys, Schwimmer's site is more a filter for interesting news in medicine, technology, and informatics, with a dose of art and humor thrown in for good measure.

Dr. Genes: Your site is called KidneyNotes, but it often seems to be about great things you find while searching online. Sometimes it's renal-related, sometimes general medicine, but often just some funny article or impressive photo. Going back in the archives, the focus has bounced around, from Hurricane Katrina to bird flu, never really being about kidneys. How would you describe it?

Dr. Schwimmer: "Notes" implies informality. The writing is mostly scraps, commentary, references, bits of information. The beauty of blogs is that you can write about anything. I'm interested in medicine, science, and technology, so I mostly write about that.

"Kidney" seems to imply that the blog is about kidneys, but most of the time it's not, so the title isn't easy to justify. I may have chosen it because nephrologists relate many things to the kidney in some way. Or it might be a reference to the kidney's job, which is to filter, extract, process, and synthesize -- which is a reasonable analogy for a blog.

Dr. Joshua Schwimmer hosts Grand Rounds
May 30, 2006

Dr. Genes: How about those Flickr photos that you spice up your blog with -- striking architecture, landscapes, views of the moon. Is photography a hobby of yours?

Dr. Schwimmer: Endless text hurts the eyes, and I like The New England Journal's practice of putting unrelated photos next to the articles. I also admire the work of photographers on Flickr, but I'm an amateur myself. Since Flickr encourages the posting of photos to blogs, occasionally I post photos that I find striking.

Dr. Genes: How did this all start? What prompted the blog?

Dr. Schwimmer: KidneyNotes started as an email list among friends and colleagues a few years ago. Several times weekly, I'd email links to articles I found interesting. To give you a sense, one of the first articles was about thyroid patients treated with radioactive iodine setting off newly installed radiation detectors in the subways of New York City. I sent out so many of these emails that someone suggested I start a blog, so I did. It's a journal, filing system, forum, and educational tool. Simultaneously.

Dr. Genes: And, let's not forget, a source of amusement. You've got a series called "Hilarious Journal Articles" -- that's got to be one of my favorite features of your blog. Where do you find these bizarre abstracts?

Dr. Schwimmer: There is a category of journal articles that makes readers laugh. Sometimes these articles are about conditions that are deadly serious, and my intention is not to make fun of anyone, but to show appreciation for humor in scientific writing (which is often dry).

Most of the articles come from friends. Some I've found through EurekAlert, the British Medical Journal (which has contributed more to the Hilarious Journal Article section than any other journal), and the general news media. The articles keep coming. They are often very clever.

Dr. Genes: You've got some other regular features, and you were an early adopter of that nifty cloud of links...

Dr. Schwimmer: The "tagcloud" at the top of the page is an abstraction and representation of the topics I write about the most. Besides "Hilarious Journal Articles," some of the other sections of the blog include "Patient Quotes of the Day," "Soapbox Series," "News from New York," "Nephrology Cases," and "Doctor Stories."

Dr. Genes: With this kind of variety, who makes up your audience? Doctors, health informatics types, people in search of medical humor? Were you surprised when the Google Librarian blogger became interested in your site?

Dr. Schwimmer: As far as I can tell, the audience of medical blogs (and the medical blogosphere is general) is made up of physicians, nurses, students, patients, scientists, social workers, administrators, engineers, IT professionals, librarians, EMTs, consultants, and many other people involved in healthcare. With the great number of highly specific professional Web sites available, I'm impressed that people care enough to read and respond to what I've written. Based on my posts about Google Scholar, I was a little surprised when Dean Giustini of the Google Scholar Blog recently approached me for an interview about searching the medical literature. But that's one of the unexpected benefits of blogging: Every so often, someone interviews you and makes you think more deeply about your work.

This diverse audience is about to get bigger, as KidneyNotes hosts Grand Rounds this week. Grand Rounds is the weekly collection of the best writing in the medical blogosphere. Dr. Schwimmer's version will go live on May 30, 2006 (follow this link). Check it out, and see what draws readers from all over the world to Grand Rounds.


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