Friday, January 18, 2019

Return of the Anechoic Effect - Rest in Peace, Health Wonk Review

Introduction: Blogging About Taboo Topics in Health Care

We started Health Care Renewal in 2004 to discuss the causes of health care dysfunction that rarely were mentioned in polite conversation at the time.  When we started Health Care Renewal, such issues as suppression and manipulation of research, and health care professionals' conflicts of interests rarely appeared in the media or in medical and health care scholarly literature.  While these issues are now more often publicly discussed, many other topics, such as  deceptive marketing of health care products and services; distortion of health care regulation and policy making through propaganda and disinformation,  regulatory capture, and the revolving door; ill-informed. mission-hostile, conflicted  corrupt or criminal leadership; etc, etc, etc; still rarely appear in the media or scholarly literature, and certainly seem to appear much less frequently than their importance would warrant (see this post).  For example, a survey by Transparency International showed that 43% of US resondents thought that American health care is corrupt.  It was covered by this blog, but not by any major US media outlet or medical or health care journal.  We have termed the failure of such issues to create any echoes of public discussion the anechoic effect.

Public discussion of the issues above might discomfit those who personally profit from the status quo in health care.  As we noted above, the people who profit the most, those involved in the leadership and governance of health care organizations and their cronies, also have considerable power to damp down any public discussion that might cause them displeasure. In particular, we have seen how those who attempt to blow the whistle on what really causes health care dysfunction may be persecuted.  But, if we cannot even discuss what is really wrong with health care, how are we going to fix it?

In the early 2000s, new internet based platforms appeared that allowed us and others to publish facts and opinions about health care dysfunction that otherwise were taboo.

The Darkness Gathers

Unfortunately, now the world of incisive medical and health care policy discussion is contracting again. Health Wonk Review, a compendium of the best blogging in health care policy, is closing down.  The email from its founders and blog-meisters read:

After a baker’s dozen years  and more than 280 issues, we’ve decided to call it a day.

It’s become a bit more of a heavy lift to get varied hosts.

We moved to a monthly issue to address that, but it’s still been slow going.

Submissions are down too as more people abandon blogs in favor of social channels like Twitter and LinkedIn.

Readership and cross posting appears to have waned, too. 

Going forward, we may host an ad hoc issue occasionally under the HWR banner and invite your participation when health policy issues rise to the surface, but the regular issues will cease.

So it joins the many medical and health care blogs I used to follow to help learn about what was really going on in health care, including items that it was considered impolite to discuss too loudly, lest they offend the powers that be. Some worthy blogs now gone are,  in alphabetical order:

1BoringOldMan - since 2017, after the death of its revered blogger, Dr Mickey Nardo

Carlat Psychiatry Blog - 2017, by Dr Daniel Carlat

HealthBeat - 2015, by journalist Maggie Mahar

HealthNewsReview - 2018, by journalist Gary Schwitzer

Hooked: Ethics, Medicine and Pharma - 2014, by Dr Howard Brody

Not Running a Hospital - 2016, by former hospital CEO Paul Levy

PharmaGossip - 2016, by an anonymous blogger

Scientific Misconduct Blog - 2010, by Dr Aubrey Blumsohn

Side Effects- by journalist Alison Bass

Note that the content of blogs with links above is still available, but the bloggers are not posting any more.

What Next?

Blogs, which were seen as a big innovation in the early 2000s, now of course seem a bit old fashioned and stuffy only a few years later.  However, blogs then served an important purpose.  They provided publication platforms which were immediate, and not subject to external editing, publication delays, or the worries of publishers' attorneys or corporate leaders.

Many of us went to blogging to discuss anechoic issues because it was so difficult to inject these discussions into the media, or medical or health care scholarly publications, at least without long delays, and editing that was not always helpful, and at times took not only the edge off, but much of the content as well. 

However, as the leaders of Health Wonk Review indicated above, social media is now all the rage. But social media has weaknesses, and social media platforms may not replace blogs.

Blogs can be as immediate as Twitter, for example (and I confess I do have a Twitter feed.)  But they allow longer form posts that can include nuance, complex arguments, analytic approaches, etc.  Anyone can read most blogs.  They do not push people to identify as followers.  They do not necessarily come with advertisements, with atttempts to profile readers for marketing purposes. They do not only supply thoughts selected for similarity with what one has read before, and hence can take a reader out of his or her algorithmically developed bubble.

However, I fear that in losing blogs such as these, we lose important voices that have helped challenge our pre-existing beliefs, illuminated what has gone wrong with health care, and showed us the way forward.

So rest in peace, Health Wonk Review.  I hope that there will be some way to continue the vigor of discussion that characterized it, and other health care blogs which are now defunct.

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