Physicians use SERMO and similar sites for patient referrals, job searches, discussions on topics such as policy and clinician research, and medical crowdsourcing on difficult clinical cases. “That’s our most important value to society: to help improve physician decision making and instantly access the knowledge of their peers,” said Kirk. “You can get 10 to 20 doctors commenting on a case within 24 hours. That’s pretty amazing; in the offline world, it can take several days to get two doctors together” to talk about a case.
Explore This IssueFebruary 2017
The insight gleaned from online visits is valuable, Kirk added. “Some of our doctors say they have learned more on SERMO than in all their CMEs put together,” he said. “It’s real-world experience. With clinical trials, they’re perfectly constructed and executed. But real-world medicine is much more muddy, with complex patients. There’s much more going on.”
How Is Privacy Maintained?
Kirk and others interviewed for this story insisted that most physicians who use such sites are fully aware of privacy issues and HIPAA considerations, and that users are careful to obscure their patients’ identities when discussing medical cases. “Most physicians know the ramifications and get full consent from their patients, especially if you can see the face,” said Eric Gantwerker, MD, MS, lead physician advisor and the director of continuing medical education for Level EX, the developer of Airway EX, a medical virtual surgery app; Dr. Gantwerker is also an assistant professor of otolaryngology at the University of Texas, Southwestern and a practicing pediatric otolaryngic surgeon at Children’s Health, Children’s Medical Center of Dallas. “There is still some sharing, but people take it seriously. They know they can lose their license if privacy is compromised.”
Doximity uses a secure messaging platform that is encrypted and HIPAA compliant, which helps maintain privacy, said Joel Davis, Doximity’s vice president of growth.
The sharing community spans all social media, and that isn’t going away, said Kirk, but social networks are not all interchangeable. “I encourage people to understand what they are using different social channels for, and to direct it to the appropriate channel,” he said. “With HIPAA concerns, I don’t recommend physicians posting things like cases or strong policy beliefs to Facebook, and I’ve warned friends who have done that. Know what is appropriate for which site. If you can share valued content and push an idea forward, in the right environment, that helps peers and society move forward.”
You can get 10 to 20 doctors commenting on a case within 24 hours. In the offline world, it can take several days to get two doctors together. —Peter Kirk
Best Ways to Use Networking Sites
Spending time on any online networking sites—physician-centered or otherwise—can eat up a lot of time. To get your best return on the investment of that time, know your goals and act accordingly.