Social Networking for Physicians – Good for Medicine or Bad? A Second Opinion You Might have an Opinion About

Physician Danine Rydland, MD was searching for a drug that would suppress her patient’s menstruation in preparation for her hysterectomy. But she didn’t know exactly what to prescribe. Unsure of how to proceed, Rydland requested permission from the patient to post a description of the condition and history on Sermo, a social networking website for physicians. The patient consented, and a lively discussion ensued.

One physician suggested a drug that suppresses menstruation. A consensus quickly emerged.

Rydland spends about two hours on the site each weekday and six hours over the weekend. “I like the community of doctors,” she says. The average age of Sermo members is 49.

But not all physicians are sold on social networking. Critics cite concerns over doctor-patient privacy, usefulness of shared information, and the looming specter of malpractice implications. What’s more, some argue that Sermo, in particular, exploits its members by selling access to investment firms and other outside groups to observe physician interactions.

Former Starbucks IT executive Tobin Arthur launched iMedExchange. He says there is a key distinction between iMedExchange and Sermo. “We view physicians as human beings first and doctors second,” Arthur says. “We’re most interested in having physicians connect on issues unrelated to the practice of medicine.” One forum on the iMedExchange forum is for wine connoisseurs, another devoted to the financial aspects of retirement.

I am a little concerned that physicians are turning to social networking to practice better medicine though I believe that it, coupled with juried, peer-reviewed content would offer a balanced medical opinion. For consumers, here is yet another question to throw out to your physician. Ask him/her if they use these sites. And more importantly make absolutely sure they are not using these sites to discuss your condition unless you have specifically gave permission to do so.