Clinicians have always valued the “doctors lounge” and the ability to connect with one another but in recent years they have increasingly relied on clinician-only online communities and open social media channels for quick, filtered information and instantaneous insight from people who feel like their peers. For example, over 800,000 verified doctors across 150+ countries are members of Sermo. Nearly all types of clinicians - including physicians, specialists, surgeons, PCPs, medical students, NPs, APPs, PAs, and pharmacists, are members of Doximity.
Like most health care technologies and apps, these communities are designed around the clinician as an end-user. They offer a variety of point-of-care decision support tools (e.g. drug interaction checkers), case-sharing forums, and real-time newsfeeds to share new clinical literature, customize content formats to individual’s preferences, and encourage discussion about new evidence. These communities also continuously adapt to meet evolving clinician needs. For example, Doximity introduced an in-app telehealth platform during the pandemic.
Of course, Covid-19 and the shift to virtual working accelerated clinicians’ use of these online communities. In fact, one survey conducted by Real Chemistry found that doctors’ posts on public social media rose by 167% between February 2020 and March 2020, and are still 148x higher per week on average versus pre-pandemic levels. However, other trends in the health care landscape, such as increasing patient complexity, lack of applicable research, and the accelerating pace of medical knowledge generation, also contribute to accelerated usage. To date, most clinical research has focused on removing cofounding variables from clinical trials and studies. Yet today’s patient populations increasingly present with multiple comorbidities and conditions –and this type of complexity is not captured in existing research. This trend, coupled with medical knowledge and insight doubling nearly every two months, causes clinicians to turn to online communities for help treating complex patients, and for assistance in keeping up with the rapidly growing medical evidence base.
Additionally, changing demographics and generational shifts in the health care workforce will continue to accelerate the adoption. Although online communities and digital platforms have always attracted early and mid-career digital-savvy clinicians and medical students, the increasing retirement of older clinicians (accelerated in part by Covid-19) and growing demographic shifts will continue to exacerbate digital use. In addition, this shift means that individuals in positions of influence will increasingly be frequent users of these communities.
Despite rapid growth, the popularity of these platforms is still early-stage. Notably, Doximity just recently filed for initial public offering (IPO); many other platforms are still growing and establishing their role in the overall landscape. As a result, health care stakeholders must start grasping and shaping the downstream positive and negative effects these communities may create. For example, online clinician communities have the potential to help reduce physician burnout and loneliness by connecting peers across the globe, and can even help health systems and organizations embrace value-based care models by providing broader access to specialists and sources of knowledge. However, they can easily contribute to the generation and spread of medical misinformation and create mistrust of the medical community.