Gone are the days when physicians would gather in the staff lounge and discuss various healthcare issues. Now, as the Internet has moved in, they don't even have to be in the same room or building to converse.
Social networking is part of the Web 2.0 trend, which is a combination of technologies and content that have helped transform the Internet from an information cache to numerous communities that allow people to connect with others anywhere in the world.
Online social networking continues to grow in popularity among physicians, says Joel Brill, MD, chief medical officer of Predictive Health, LLC, in Phoenix and chair of the Practice Management & Economics Committee at the American Gastroenterological Association. Social networks can play a critical role in a physician's daily life, assisting in accomplishing various goals and offering numerous advantages, including:
Social networking sites also give physicians the chance to get information—such as research, study tips and guides, healthcare-related articles, and others' experiences in the field—quickly, says Michael Tomblyn, MD, a radiation oncologist at the University of Minnesota.
Web site target: Physicians
Social networking has blossomed within the past several years, a trend that began with sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Facebook "appears to be gaining traction with professionals," including those in the healthcare industry, says Brill, adding that LinkedIn is also growing.
"LinkedIn is an excellent professional networking site, especially if the physician is considering new professional networking, recruiting, and business opportunities," Brill says.
In addition, there are several sites created for and used almost solely by physicians and others in healthcare, including:
Tomblyn said Sermo is a top site to look at, as it allows users to offer feedback on experiences they've had in the field, lessons they've learned, and questions or concerns they may have about issues relating to healthcare, all of which can ultimately help medical students, residents, and others who are just beginning their medical careers. This can also be very helpful to those just joining the social networking world.
Sermo is one of the largest physician-focused Web sites, due in large part to its affiliation with the AMA, Brill says. Sermo touts having more than 100,000 users, and the site continues to grow.
With the myriad social networking Web sites focused on physicians, it's easy to get bogged down in information that may not necessarily be useful, Tomblyn says. He cites the many online networking communities, from postings and blogs to mentoring and advice. But persevere, Tomblyn says. "You can't get discouraged."
Brill suggests physicians take time to research networking Web sites to become more familiar with how they work before joining. Begin by searching any or all of these sites for healthcare and related topics that you're interested in. Many sites are tailored to physicians' specific interests, Tomblyn says.
Joining a site "doesn't mean that you will be barraged by unwanted e-mails," Brill notes. "You can participate as little or as much as you wish."