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Physicians and Online Communities

A 2009 MDsearch survey found that 72% of physicians are members of at least one social networking site. Facebook was the big winner among physicians, with 67% of survey respondents reporting to have a Facebook profile.  But the choices abound for physicians seeking an online community. Like the rest of us, they can opt to join Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace to stay in touch with friends and family or they may want to create a LinkedIn profile to connect with colleagues; but physicians have additional choices too. The past few years have introduced an abundance of online communities exclusively for physicians. But is there value in these exclusive communities for physicians? And are these online communities succeeding in their efforts to attract physician members?

Decisions, decisions…

The number of online communities for healthcare providers and/or physicians continues to grow. They range from the truly exclusive sites like Sermo, an online community with an extensive credential verification process, to DocsBoard, an online forum requiring members to enter their license numbers, to sites like Tiromed, which asks registrants to affirm their physician or med student status on an honor system. Other sites such as MedScape and medXcentral are open to physicians as well as other healthcare professionals and do not require any proof of professional status.

But the choices don’t stop there – check out the growing list of online communities for physicians.

·         Clinical Village – online network for medical community
·         DocnDoc – online community for physicians
·         DocsBoard – message boards for licensed physicians
·         Doctors Hangout – online community for medical students, residents, and physicians
·         DrConnected – online network for physicians and healthcare professionals
·         iMedExhange – online community for residents, physicians, and retired physicians
·         Medical Passions – online dating site for the medical community
·         MedScape – online community for healthcare providers
·         MedicSpeak – online community for medical students and physicians
·         medXcentral – online community for all healthcare professionals, as well as healthcare recruiters
·         MomMD – online community for women in medicine
·         New Media Medicine – message boards for med school applicants, medical students, and physicians
·         Ozmosis – online community for licensed physicians only
·         Relax Doc – online community for physicians only
·         Sermo – online community for licensed physicians only
·         StudentDoc – online community for medical students
·         Tiromed – online community for physicians and students of medicine

 


What’s the point?

Choices abound for physicians seeking online networking opportunities, but what exactly is the value in these communities? Perhaps the most obvious benefit is the capacity of these sites to facilitate instant “curbside consults” among physicians all over the country. Instead of a physician making a phone call to another physician for advice, doctors can turn to their online network and get real time feedback from multiple physicians. In this way, online communities for physicians have a direct benefit to patients.

Additionally, online communities provide a support system to busy physicians who don’t have the time to attend conferences and other live networking functions. These sites allow physicians to discuss common frustrations from the professional to the personal.

And the winner is…

While there is an abundance of options for physicians seeking an online community, one network has emerged as the clear leader – Sermo.com. Touting more than 112,000 physician members, Sermo claims to be more of a voice for the physician community than the American Medical Association. This claim, along with a somewhat controversial business model, has kept Sermo consistently in the national headlines.

While the network itself is exclusively for physicians, Sermo makes a profit by selling data to healthcare companies who are interested in learning what physicians think. They also make public particularly interesting conversation threads – such as a recent chain of posts from nearly 500 physicians discussing the problems of maintaining a successful solo practice. Sermo turned regarded the comment thread as an informal survey and issued a
press release announcing, “26% of solo practitioners polled on Sermo have been forced to close due to financial hardships."

Providing this type of insight into the physician community has proven to be a successful business model for Sermo, and because identities are kept private, it doesn’t seem to concern the still growing number physician members. But with Sermo dominating the online physician network space, how are the other online physician communities faring?

Like Sermo, MedScape claims over 100,000 members, but due to their open registration process, it is impossible to know how many of those members are physicians. On a smaller scale, sites with a distinct niche seem to be faring well with the audiences they target. MomMD has over 8,000 registered members and has established a solid reputation among female physicians. Online networks targeting specialists, such as CardiologyRounds.com, are also gaining some traction.

On the other hand, it seems many social networks for physicians could be here today and gone tomorrow. SocialMD, DoctorNetworking, and Healtheva have all been recently discussed as the next big thing in social networking for physicians, but as of this writing they are nowhere to be found.

Conclusion

An increasing number of physicians are flocking to exclusive online communities. The advice and information resulting from the discourse within these communities appears to be benefitting everyone involved – from the physicians themselves, to the patients they treat, to the companies “listening” to the conversations, to the public at large. For this reason, it seems these communities will continue to grow. But will Sermo remain the leader in this space, or will another physician community eventually take its place at the top? In the ever-evolving world of online media, only time will tell!