Physician Social and Professional Networks

Physicians are a strange bunch at the best of times.

Current medical specialists have developed strategies for learning, education delivery, information dissemination and interpersonal communication based on years of book/journal reading, paper publications and isolated research within a didactic learning environment. Traditionally, physicians shared little knowledge with the wider medical community – choosing to perform research in isolation and limit knowledge sharing to journal publications and in the education of elite teaching groups within the hospital setting…but these times they are a changing.

The development of web 2.0 and the integration of education and networking within medicine 2.0 and health 2.0 has led to the enhanced use of internet based education and open access publishing. This openness and collaboration has facilitated a rapid-response research revolution, encouraged open debate on medical and pharmaceutical issues and is assisting to break down the boundaries and mystique of and within medicine.

Medicine 2.0 applications, services and tools are Web-based services for health care consumers, caregivers, patients, health professionals, and biomedical researchers, that use Web 2.0 technologies as well as semantic web and virtual reality tools, to enable and facilitate specifically social networking, participation, apomediation, collaboration, and openness within and between these user groups.

In Australia physicians are stood on the precipice of the internet wormhole – dabbling with generic search engines; refining the etiquette of email and re-personalizing the impersonal interface of web 1.0. They are slowly raising their heads from behind the couch to find out what all the fuss is about. Yesterday a physician colleague of mine collared me in the corridor and asked if I could briefly outline the most efficient way for a ‘technophobic, self-consumed, time-poor dinosaur’ to ‘get with the times’ and rationalize some of the important developments for doctors in the internet communication field….

  • Improve your medical search.
    • Review some of the fantastic search engine resources available to find medical information in the internet…other than Google
    • Take a look at medical news and education portals such as MedConnect
  • Read some medical blogs
  • Create a professional profile- your personal online CV.
    • Professional networking has traditionally been via face-face interaction but in internet parlance it refers to a virtual community that is focused on professional interactions instead of social interactions. Notable examples include LinkedIn, Xing, Ecademy, Naymz and Konnects. These professional networks are well used by non-medical business professionals providing a source of interaction, leads and communication between business professionals. However, they are underutilized by the medical profession as interactive communities acting primarily as an online curriculum vitae (CV).
  • Join a social/professional networking site for physicians.
    • There are myriad of social networking sites waiting for you to join, create a profile and become part of the online community. Social networking communities have between 1 and 100,000,000 registered users. Notable examples include facebook, twitter and MySpace.
    • Start by focusing on a country-centric site or speciality centric networks for physicians
    • Look closely at the type of network and choose the right one for you. Remember that Twitter is not just about discussing bodily functions and what your colleagues are having for lunch – but is a powerful communication tool between physicians in Healthcare.
  • Enhance your internet browsing experience:
  • Spread the word – your way
    • If you find the forums too dynamic, the networking too personal and want more control of the information you deliver…write a blog. Great medical blogging community with interaction, advice and helpful starting tips over at MedBrains.net

The responses were as expected

  • “Enjoyed the alternative medical search engines – but I will continue to use the hospital library”
  • “The blog carnivals were a great read – but I am busy, I really have no time to read them – I have to concentrate on the important issues in peer reviewed medical journals”
  • “No way am I putting information about me on the web – identity theft is a big issue you know”
  • “I had a look at the social networking sites…but there are so many, I just got lost.”
  • “I have nothing useful to add………”
  • “My email inbox is too full already – I don’t need multiple notifications from social networks slowing me down”

This got me thinking about the challenges facing physician peer-peer community collaboration and the integration of web 2.0 within the field of medicine. In the web 1.0 era the issues faced by budding internet evangelists were mainly software/hardware issues – slow internet connections, slow computers and static interfaces. However, with most of these techological issues fixed – we are left with more fundamental issues of the physicians themselves.

Advantages of Social/Professional Physician Networks

Social networking sites, including LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and more are changing the way professionals communicate, learn and network – but active participation is the key. There are certainly advantages to having a ‘closed’ peer-peer social/professional network for physicians

  • Find and connect with new or old colleagues around the world.
  • Meet doctors with common interests
  • Keep your finger on the pulse and discover what your colleagues are talking about.
  • Participate in discussions, forums and blogs.
  • Exchange knowledge with colleagues you know and trust
  • Discuss medical topics and clinical cases by creating and managing your own forums.
  • Define your online persona
  • Enlarge your professional network.
  • Post and find medical jobs
  • Experience the power of numbers
    • Rapidly share information e.g. tracking infectious diseases
    • Crowdsourcing and the power of a physicians network

Issues surrounding Social/Professional Physician Networks

Despite the road-train of internet communication hustling through the medical station, there are still many issues raised by potential participants in these virtual communities. The worry of thought ownership and corporate moles may seem a bit conspiratorial [and true] – but it is the the ethical issues and concerns over patient confidentiality that chime the worry bell loudest. Most of the social/professional networking groups is building a communication system based on trust, self-policing and altruistic endeavour – but many issues still remain…

  • Lack of participation:
    • Every network relies on active participation, requiring an evangelistic group of thought provoking individuals to lead the charge. Sadly, many sites have fallen by the wayside…with the solitary voice of the originator calling meekly into the blackness of a vacant wormhole.
  • Purity of conversation
    • Ethical considerations
    • Patient confidentiallity
    • Self-regulation
  • Dilution
    • There are more and more communities online. There is a risk that the virtual world may be spread homeopathically thin.
  • Registration, verification and security
    • How secure is the networking site? How do the sites make sure only physicians register? Generally verified with medical board certificate of registration or board license number.
    • The flaws in the system have previously been exploited – but security is getting tighter!
  • Purity of association
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