Social media and medical practice are experiencing a convenient collision of capability and need. Time-starved healthcare professionals need an efficient, trusted way to communicate and collaborate with others in their specific fields—and online platforms can now give them access to one another and to targeted information in a secure and very specialized environment. The result is an enriched resource for professionals, an outlet for manufacturers and improved outcomes for patients.

From One Professional To Another…And Another

It’s no secret that healthcare professionals, including prescribers, pharmacists and nurses, have less time to collaborate with their colleagues and stay current in their fields. Yet, they have a greater need than ever to do so as medicine becomes increasingly complex and specialized. In one study reported in JAMA Internal Medicine, 10% of diagnostic mistakes were related to the fact that the proper expert had not been consulted.1 At the same time, healthcare professionals, and most especially physicians, must sift through a tsunami of new information every day.

These are precisely the types of issues that the Internet and social media can address. Indeed, physicians are frequent users of both. A survey by Manhattan Research found that 91% of physician respondents either somewhat or strongly agree that “the Internet is an indispensable professional information resource.”2 And, research conducted by Communications Media, Inc. in 2014 revealed that 61% of physicians reported that they use social media solely for professional purposes.”3

However, broad-based social media platforms do not offer healthcare professionals the credentialed, secure and highly specialized environment they need to gather and share confidential healthcare information. They are simply too public and too general.

Collaborating Within A Community—Not Merely A Network

Physicians, of course, benefit from one another’s counsel on clinical questions. Until recently, their preferred method of reaching out to colleagues has been by phone, with email being a close second.4 Now, though, technology makes it possible for physicians to seek others’ opinions and advice electronically in live chats or curbside consults. By crowdsourcing medical opinions, a practitioner can hope to hear from scores of colleagues on difficult or puzzling cases very quickly.

Yet, the input gathered this way is only as good as the sources themselves. Open forums, such as message boards on networks, are not necessarily a valued or trusted source. An oncologist, for example, could be expected to have little use for clinical advice coming from respondents in other areas of medicine—who, in fact, may or may not even be licensed. The best forums are communities built around a common theme and those that are restricted to participants whose qualifications have been verified. Ideally, participants are not anonymous in such communities; when collaborators are identified, and even pictured, a rapport develops more easily.

Meaningful Information, Fun Education

Prescribers, pharmacists and medical directors all have an ongoing need for information on the latest advances in their respective fields. Yet pharmaceutical companies are now limited in their ability to deliver product information via in-person rep visits, and busy professionals have less time to receive such calls during working hours. One answer for both sides of the equation is to serve up information in targeted news platforms, the operative word being “targeted.”

When medical news and reference materials are delivered within individual communities defined by healthcare profession or disease state, members can find what they want. This builds on the saying in journalism that “all news is local,” meaning that people care most about what pertains to them most specifically. And when branded information is placed carefully in such settings according to members’ recommendations, it is viewed as a welcome resource rather than as intrusive advertising.

Another clever new method of disseminating product information and promoting stakeholder engagement is via “gaming.” Taking advantage of people’s natural inquisitive and competitive instincts, manufacturers can provide quizzes about their products within the appropriate online community. Participants, in answering questions pertaining to a drug’s mechanism of action, safety and tolerability, tolerance, and so forth, learn in an interactive way. Leaderboards show them how they compare with their peers and the sponsoring manufacturer gains insight into where there are knowledge gaps on their products.

Targeted Opportunities

The same, targeted approach is helpful when posting information about career opportunities.

Communities defined by job type and specialty are ideal forums for posting information on job openings, best practices and developmental opportunities. These communities provide a streamlined and effective way for medical specialists to find specific opportunities that are relevant to them.

Manufacturers can also use these homogenous communities to conduct surveys among members, gathering feedback from experts in a particular area of medicine. These surveys are also an important means by which these experts can voice their opinions. By doing so, they are actively contributing to the general advancement of medicine and patient care. It is even possible, when members are classified into narrow subgroups, for manufactures to seek out key opinion leaders to take part in a virtual advisory board for ongoing advice and insight. A company looking to partner with pharmacists who have experience in oral oncolytics, for example, could do so easily with the right, targeted tool.

In sum, networks that are divided into virtual communities along common interests (in other words by profession or disease area) mimic the real world of healthcare and medical practice. They create communities of similarly trained professionals and become a digital destination for collaboration, education and professional development. The more specialized the community, the more powerful it is for members and participating manufacturers.


1. Hardeep Singh, MD, MPH, et al, “Types and Origins of Diagnostic Errors in Primary Care Settings,” JAMA Internal Medicine, 2013; 173(6):418-425. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.2777.

2. “Taking the Pulse,” Manhattan Research, 2013.

3. Dorfman, Susan, Dr., “‘Social Medicine:’ A Look at Physician Use of Social Media,” drawn from 2013 Media Vitals,–social-medicine-a-look-at-physician-use-of-social-media.

4. “Taking the Pulse,” Manhattan Research, 2013.

  • Dr. Theodore F. Search, PharmD

    Ted is Founder and CEO of Skipta, which comprises more than 30 specialized medical communities with more than 800,000 healthcare professionals as members in the U.S. He is an innovation advocate, tech guru and an expert on “virtual professional networking.”


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