The impact of social media on health care has been nothing short of game-changing. Researchers have used sites such as Twitter to track the spread of disease so that medical providers can respond to epidemics more quickly. Among potential patients, eighty percent of internet users say they now go online to find health information, and 18 percent report using the Web to connect with others who share their health issues or concerns, according to a 2011 Pew Internet study.
For doctors, who’ve long relied on sifting through medical journals for new information, networked communities such as Facebook and Twitter have opened up whole new paths for receiving relevant news quickly. Web searchers and databases have put targeted information at their fingertips. Indeed, a recent Google survey found that 86 percent of physicians now use the internet to research health topics.
Yet in large part that’s where the story’s ended. While patients are free to discuss their symptoms and cases online, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 precludes doctors from using email, text messaging and social networking platforms to communicate about patient care. Violations are taken seriously. Last year, for example, a Rhode Island doctor made headlines when he was fined and fired for posting about a patient on Facebook, even though he included no identifying information.
Doximity was created to meet what we believe is one of the next major challenges in health care: facilitating online communication among doctors. Our service is often described as a kind of LinkedIn for physicians, and in the year since we launched, we’ve quickly become the largest medical professional network in the country. To create a framework of trust and expertise, we verify each member’s identity. To ensure that messages are sent securely, we employ dual passwords for each user so the message will be encrypted end-to-end. In other words, what gives us deep value within our particular community is that we’re a private, real-name and HIPAA-secure means of exchanging information.
This February, we officially launched iRounds, a mobile app which is a forum similar to Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ feeds, where users can expand their reach beyond just exchanging messages and toward tapping larger communities to discuss patient cases, new research, emerging medical technologies and more. Already, our members have put iRounds to work, using it to talk about everything from practice management or what new EHR platforms are best to some truly jaw-dropping cases. Among them, for instance, a doctor treating a patient who had accidentally swallowed a metal bristle from a barbecue grill was able to connect with someone who had, believe it or not, seen a similar case.
It’s not difficult to imagine these kinds of real-time, long-distance collaborative teams becoming the norm. We think there’s a tremendous value to be gained by filtering cases and data through an interactive community composed exclusively of doctors, each of whom is able to attach unique clinical insights to information as it travels. In this way, with each physician linked to a broad community of experts, treatment stands to become more targeted, specific and personalized than ever.
Watch the video below for more information on iRounds:
Jeff Tangney is the Founder and CEO of Doximity, the largest real-name physician online network. Jeff holds an M.B.A. from Stanford and a B.S. from the University of Wisconsin.