"Dr. Anonymous" Survives Turbulent Year for Medbloggers

Nicholas Genes, MD, PhD


November 13, 2007

It's been a tumultuous year for "Dr. Anonymous." Since we last spoke to the mysterious but jovial figure behind the eponymous Web site, he has been featured in the national media but has also received hate mail and personal threats. For a while he thought about quitting his online activities, but he somehow pressed on with a new style and new technology to carry his thoughts. I caught up with him recently.

Dr. Genes: You prophesied last year that your writing would evolve -- more commentary on news, less about personal life and your opinions. Has it unfolded that way, and if so, why?

Dr: Anonymous: Hosting Grand Rounds has always found me at transition points. Last year, I was changing from blogging about patients to more news-oriented posts. Now, as we'll discuss more below, I find myself shifting again to incorporating more live Internet radio shows in addition to posts.

Blogging has really been a reflection of my life. Blogging about patients was a comfortable zone in which to write. Then, I wanted to push my writing skills a little bit to do commentary on current events. I guess now, I find it challenging and exhilarating to see what I can do with live Internet radio. Who knows what will happen a year from now? We'll see.

Dr. Anonymous hosts Grand Rounds
November 13, 2007

Dr. Genes: Where are you finding the material to comment on, and how do you decide what's blogworthy?

Dr. Anonymous: Even in high school, I was a news junkie. I like to know what's going on in the world around me. For blog posts, I hit the US and world health news headlines first and see if anything finds my fancy there. In the past few months, I've also been drawn to commenting about news that is more local to me: for example, a local high school student diagnosed with MRSA, a recent high school shooting incident, or even a tornado that occurred less than a mile from my office.

Dr. Genes: Are you concerned or frightened when other anonymous medbloggers get outed? Have you ever considered calling it quits or going public under a new guise?

Dr. Anonymous: On January 26, 2007, my blog was featured by a major news organization. This was the start of the best and the worst week ever in my blog life. The first couple of days were the best, with congratulatory comments and emails. Then the negative feedback and personal attacks started. Being the type of person that I am, I took the negative stuff too personally -- and really considered quitting blogging altogether. But, my blog friends really kept encouraging me to continue, and after days of thought, I did come back. That was definitely a long week for me.

As far as other medbloggers being outed, I was at a medical meeting in May, using the free Wi-Fi, reading blogs instead of paying attention to the lecture, when I learned that both Dr. Flea and Fat Doctor took their blogs down on the same day. That sent a huge ripple throughout the medical blogosphere. (Editor's note: Fat Doctor has resumed blogging.)

In the days that followed, there were reports of other medblogs being taken down, and some (including me) questioned the future of the medical blogosphere.

I started the I'm a Blogaholic group blog during this time. This was an opportunity for a few popular medbloggers who had to shut down their own blog to maintain contact with their readers until their new blog was up and running. I think it really fulfilled a need at that time -- if, for anything else, to give scared medbloggers a place to meet and vent about the current situation.

Dr. Genes: Last time we spoke, you were immersed in blogcasts. Now you've graduated to live blog talk radio with a chat room and dial-in participation. Can you explain the attraction? Isn't there enough interactivity and participation on blogs -- and perhaps more time for reflection, references, and nuanced thought?

Dr. Anonymous: Blogcasts are "prepackaged podcasts." I enjoyed them at first, but found myself frustrated with the entire editing process. I wanted to get the blogcast out to the listener as soon as I could -- and editing really slowed the process down.

I was immediately drawn to the live Internet radio show because it is real-time interaction with the blog reader -- better than any instant message or text conversation, or even a live chat room. For a live show there is also no audio editing involved, and the radio show site almost immediately puts it into a podcast format for listeners to download. Even with technical difficulties I have had during the show (and I've had a bunch), it's a different type of exhilaration I get doing a show live as opposed to writing a really good post. It's hard to explain.

Dr. Genes: What's next? Are you thinking about video?

Dr. Anonymous: I tried that during my best/worst week ever. I recorded and posted a video blog. But I eventually took that down -- basically out of fear of being outed at the time.

Dr. Genes: Yikes! Well, what about some new writing you're particularly pleased with?

Dr. Anonymous: Over the past few months, my best writing has been about ethical issues in medicine that hit the front pages of newspapers. These, by far, generated many more comments than other types of posts. I encourage readers to check out the following: The Ashley Treatment, Uterus Transplant, and The Baby Emlio Debate.

As for radio interviews, I've always wondered how a person's real voice would sound. I've read a person's blog for months, and in my mind, I have a "voice image" of what they sound like. It's been a lot of fun talking with them on Internet radio and seeing if my mental image of their blog voice matches with the real voice.

What's next? I'm going to further explore this talk show gig. I'm thinking about trying to assemble a colorful cast of characters to do a monthly or weekly analysis of health news that makes headlines in the mainstream press. Maybe I'll call the show "DA 360," or "The Dr. A Factor," or "The Weekly Show with Dr. A." Those names aren't taken, are they?

Dr. Genes: Ah, no. But readers are welcome to tune in when Dr. Anonymous hosts Grand Rounds on Tuesday, November 13, 2007. Dr. A will be organizing and presenting the week's best writing from the medical blogosphere -- from students, economists, nurses, researchers, and doctors (anonymous or not) -- on his site. As a bonus, he'll be introducing Grand Rounds live, over Internet radio, on Monday, November 12, 2007; you can download the archived version to listen to that broadcast. Check it out!


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