Physician Social Networks

No industry is immune from the impact of the internet and healthcare has a lot to gain from it. A 2009 study by Hall & Partners shows that 86% of U.S. physicians use the Internet to seek out health, medical or prescription drug information, 58% do this more than once per day. This should not come as a surprise to anyone because medicine is a rapidly advancing field (resonable estimates of new papers published each year range from over 0.8m to 1.4m!). Physicians have also started to incorporate online social networking into their lives, with Facebook and Twitter being only a few of the social networking platforms utilized. Nearly 90% of physicians use at least one of these tools for personal use, and over 65% for professional purposes, according to QuantiaMD. Physician networking is becoming a powerful social force that holds the promise to transform and humanize the healthcare field.

According to digital strategist Rohit Bhargava, a number of trends shape the use of social media by physicians. First, the number of physician-only social networking sites is rapidly increasing. With over 120,000 community members and spanning 68 specialties, Sermo is the largest online physician community in the US where doctors exchange knowledge on challenging cases, drugs, devices and clinical issues. Ozmosis enables verified, U.S. licensed physicians to exchange medical knowledge, collaborate, learn from one another and build relationships. SocialMD helps medical students, residents, fellows and physicians find study partners, buy and sell study material, find information on programs and positions and get the latest medical news. RelaxDoc is a private, highly selective portal where physicians can network, find information and access services for both professional and personal needs. Other physician-to-physician social networking sites include New Media MedicineMedicSpeak, DoctorsHangout and many others.

Second, private physician customer service portals of big Pharmaceutical companies are becoming essential part of doctors’ practice. Portals such as Merck Services, Pfizer Pro and Novo Medlink  give physicians access to prescription, clinical trials, formulary, product and clinical trials information, patient education materials, and learning programs, and allow them to interact with company representatives. Third, medical journals and education platforms are starting to offer a more interactive experience for physicians too. Finally, top physicians are launching blogs presenting their medical views on health related issues in a way that is more approachable by the non-medical community. KevinMD for example, is a leading online destination for provocative physician commentary on breaking medical news. Other examples include Dr. Kenneth Fisher‘s People for Progress in Health Care blog, Dr.Malpani’s Blog, MD Whistleblower and many others.

Online networking offers a number of benefits to physicians – it supports personal expression and a professional online presence, facilitates communication, networking, collegiality and camaraderie within the profession, and provides an opportunity to exchange information and seek support. Online professional communities enable learning from experts and peers, discussion of clinical issues and practice management challenges. They can also be taken further to increase the efficiency of patient consultation and development of care teams and referral networks. Online presence, however, also creates a number of challenges related to privacy of personal information and content, accuracy, professionalism and appropriateness.

Currently, physician-to-physician interaction is by far the most active social media category. Physicians are still resistant to use social media to communicate with patients because of liability and privacy issues, or simply because of lack of time. Even though the majority of physicians believe in their positive impact, patient communities continue to be an untapped resource for clinicians that has the potential to improve communication between physicians and patients, patient knowledge, compliance and health outcomes.

Pharmaceutical and medical technology companies, hospitals, health insurers and other actors in the health care system can use social media tools for promotion, for  gaining insight into consumer  experience and needs, supplementing innovation efforts and for augmenting marketing and communication efforts with consumers and colleagues. They can also be used for providing support and education resources, or for decreasing overall health care utilization through minimizing unnecessary appointments. Potential clinical and business opportunities inherent in social networks are numerous. An online community with strong word-of-mouth influence in the social space can offer benefits that do beyond the standard role of social media networking.

The Internet has transformed physician relationships with information. Eager to positively impact healthcare, physicians are leading the process of adopting and innovating the use of social media in healthcare. In the future, more and more stakeholders will be demonstrating tits value and learning how to  best leverage social networking in healthcare.