I had an inspirational experience at a health blogger summit this past weekend called HealtheVoices 15. The conference was sponsored by Janssen in partnership with Everyday Health and gathered together approximately 60 of some of the best health bloggers from around the country for a day and a half meeting at the Hyatt Regency across the river from New York City.
The conference featured some great speakers talking about topics of relevance to all health bloggers, including Susannah Fox, Dr. Zubin Damania (ZDogg MD), Jimmy Nguyen, Tim Cigelske, Brian Koffman, Kerri Sparling, and Jenni Prokopy (ChronicBabe).
Read on for my conference summary and to learn about the mental health bloggers represented at the conference.
First, let me mention that while I drove to the conference, Janssen paid for my travel expenses for the summit (hotel and food). All thoughts and opinions expressed here are solely my own.
The event brought together about 60 health bloggers from a number of diseases and conditions: cancer, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, HIV, schizophrenia, rheumatoid arthritis and a few others. (Not surprisingly, these are also conditions that Janssen offers treatments.)1
The event kicked off on Friday night with a networking cocktail reception and dinner where participants had the opportunity to get to meet and talk with one another. Clare Martorana, Executive Vice President & General Manager, Consumer Health & Wellness at Everyday Health gave a thoughtful speech about why she got involved in online health and why this conference was a special opportunity. It got the conference started off on a positive and inspiring note.
Saturday was the meat of the conference, starting with a great presentation from Dr. Zubin Damania (ZDogg MD). ZDogg explained why he went into medicine (his father was a doctor) and why he did a u-turn in his career after practicing in our broken healthcare system. ZDogg is an entertaining speaker and really brought some of the problems of the current health care system in the U.S. into focus — doctors get paid to do procedures on you, not to listen to you.
That’s why after practicing for years at Stanford, he gave it all up to go into what is commonly known as concierge medicine (in a startup called Turntable Health). That’s where an individual pays a monthly membership fee — like a gym! — for personalized health care from an integrated health care team that includes a doctor, nurse, health coach, mental health expert, and others. The goal is to help you not just when you’re sick, but also in preventative care. It’s a stop-gap solution to the serious problems in the U.S. health care system, but one that appeals to some.
Breakout Sessions & Lunch Keynote
There were four breakout sessions for the rest of the day, starting with Protecting Against Compassion Fatigue. Dr. Brian Koffman and Kerry Sparling (from Six Until Me) talked about the challenges of constantly blogging for years and how to deal with the burnout that inevitably accompanies such an effort. Brian offered a laundry list of strategies to help reduce compassion fatigue, emphasizing it’s important for each blogger to find ones that work best for them. Kerry was a dynamic and fun speaker, sharing her stories of dealing with this issue.
Lunch brought a keynote address from the always-interesting and engaging Susannah Fox, Entrepreneur in Residence at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She ran through some of the recent trends in technology and health, sharing the latest data with the audience on these topics. The Q&A was just as interesting, as bloggers asked thoughtful questions and a dialogue got started about a number of challenges faced online by health bloggers.
After lunch, I heard Jimmy Nguyen, a digital media lawyer with Davis Wright Tremaine speak about all the legal issues bloggers should be aware when blogging. These included defamation, intellectual property rights (such as copyright and trademark), endorsements and testimonials, and privacy rights. Although I’ve been blogging since 2000, Jimmy still taught me some new legal things that I wasn’t fully aware of.
Tim Cigelske followed, talking about Measuring Your Success Online. Tim is the social media director and an adjunct professor at Marquette University and shared his social media analytics strategy with the audience. Briefly, this is to define your: mission, audience, metrics, peak times, platforms, and system. He recommended a number of services to help with measuring your social media success: SumAll, Mention and Buffer.com.
The last breakout session was presented by Jenni Prokopy, the founder of ChronicBabe.com. The topic was on being a professional patient: online advocacy as a full-time career. As someone who deals with fibromyalgia and other conditions, she shared her tips and strategies for turning one’s health blogging into a potential full-time job working for yourself. Her talk was inspiring, but obviously this road is not for everyone.
While a panel discussion among the advisory panel was planned, the day ran long and it had to be canceled. This was unfortunate, but the right thing to do as the back-to-back sessions made for a long day sitting indoors.
Saturday evening ended with group dinners held at seven different local restaurants. While the groups were segregated by topics predetermined, it appears that — at least for some of the dinners — the topics took a backseat to sharing our stories with one another. At the dinner I attended, I learned about the struggles suffered by those with HIV, inflammatory bowel disease, and other conditions brought to life by ordinary people. Why blog? Some felt a lack of support or simple information they could readily relate to. For others, it’s a creative outlet to positively deal with their chronic disease. And still others blog for reasons too numerous to list.
An Extraordinary Group of Mental Health Bloggers
Among the mental health bloggers, I met a group of compassionate, devoted individuals — none of whom I knew prior to this conference. These inspirational people included: Ashley Smith (Overcoming Schizophrenia), Melanie Jimenez (Understanding Schizophrenia), Lisa Lambert (Parent/Professional Advocacy League, and Chris Hickey (The Mindstorm).
I encourage you to check out all of their blogs and efforts. I felt honored to get to meet each and every one of them face-to-face — something bloggers rarely have the chance to do. We had some good conversations about mental health care and treatment in the U.S.
I have to give thanks for being invited to this special gathering of patient health bloggers. And thanks to the health expert advisors who helped advise the conference organizers: Brian Koffman, Dina Neils, Sara Ringer, Josh Robbins, Ann Silberman, Ashley Smith, Kerri Sparling, and Megan Starshak. I met many of these people and feel like I made some new friends this weekend.
I also have to give a shout-out to Caroline Pavis, Director of Strategic Communications at Janssen. Her tireless devotion to make this conference happen is a testament to the powerful impact and influence patience voices have in the online world. She went above and beyond to put the conference together and make it the great success it was.
I can’t wait to hear about HealtheVoices 16! Because if this year was any indication, this summit has a bright future in helping bring together health bloggers from across the country. Thanks to Janssen and Everyday Health for making this special event happen.
- Because the conference only focused on conditions that Janssen offers treatments for, many excellent health bloggers were overlooked for this conference. [↩]