At the Ann Myers Medical Clinic, physicians in a variety of specialties from around the world congregate to teach medical students treatment protocols, how to analyze diagnostic images, and other critical skills that will improve patient care and make them better overall doctors. And when the physicians are done teaching, going home is as easy as logging off and powering down their computer—the clinic is located in Second Life, an Internet-based virtual world.
Physicians sometimes get a bad rap when it comes to technology because of low adoption rates for electronic medical record systems, e-prescribing, and other practice-enhancement technologies, but it’s typically cost barriers, not a Luddite aversion to technology, behind physicians’ reluctance to wire their practices.
Many physicians are actually very savvy, particularly when it comes to online interactions—99% of all physicians now use the Internet, according to a recent poll. In fact, I would say physicians are ahead of the curve when it comes to finding practical, professional uses for Web 2.0 technology.
The entire Web 2.0 trend is based on the notion that Web design can facilitate information sharing and collaboration among users, so it’s almost the perfect vehicle for physicians who are short on time but accustomed to constantly learning new clinical and practice management techniques from their peers, says Michael Banks, MD, co-founder of The Doctor’s Channel, a start-up video sharing Web site that provides condensed medical education videos for doctors.
The Doctor’s Channel is a prime example of how physician-centric online communities can save doctors time and make their day-to-day work a little easier—physicians can watch short video clips about everything from specialty-specific treatments to reimbursement advice. “They learn much like they do in a live setting where they may have a quick conversation with a colleague about a clinical topic or talk to someone in the hall to get the most current information, and then move on with their busy day,” Banks says. And there’s an added benefit professional benefit: Some of the 5- to 7-minute video clips can actually earn doctors “micro-CMEs” worth 0.25 CME credits each.
In today's fast-paced world, sites like these allow physicians to overcome pesky geographical limitations to interact with more of their colleagues in less time. Other examples of doctors taking a Web 2.0 approach to medicine include:
Blogs. Physician blogging has been around for a while now, and there are dozens of great physician-written blogs about everything from clinical procedures to healthcare reform. Some doctors use this medium to vent or write creatively, but others share information with colleagues or even use a blog as a marketing vehicle. I probably get more quality industry news and information from reading medical blogs than from any other source (other than HealthLeaders, of course).
Wikis. AskDrWiki, for example, was started by a group of cardiologists and claims its goal is to create “a collective online memory for physicians, nurses, and medical students.”
Online communities. With nearly 60,000 physician members, Sermo is by far the most popular of the online social networking communities, but it’s not the only one. Ozmosis is a place where physicians can “share clinical, practice, and policy insights” with peers. Physicians have responded enthusiastically to social networking, and new online physician communities are popping up regularly.
E-books. Like wikis, e-books serve as an online repository for medical information, taking the volumes of clinical information that used to be stored in libraries and physicians’ bookshelves and making them accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. MedicalStudent.com, for example, houses medical textbooks complete with anatomical diagrams and pictures.
This is just a scratch on the surface of current Web 2.0 offerings, so if I've missed a site that you regularly use, please send it along. The Internet will play a major role in the future of healthcare, and a lot of physician leaders have already found ways to use Web 2.0 to tackle some of the daily challenges they face.
Elyas Bakhtiari is a managing editor with HealthLeaders Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.