At a conference called the Health 2.0 Spring Fling in San Diego last week, dozens of companies presented services designed to help patients, hospitals, caregivers and experts take advantage of the same sort of social networking tools that are now used regularly in politics, business, civic affairs and general e-socializing.
There were communities where patients share experiences about their conditions, sites that pull together "wisdom-of-the-crowds" ratings of doctors, hospitals and even drugs (!), and healthcare search services that show you which information resources patients found most helpful.
But one of the most interesting developments in the health 2.0 arena are social networks for doctors.
The theory is that most doctors work in small practices, are often harried and overworked, are geographically separated from their peers and can't enjoy the sort of collaboration, intelligence-sharing and collegiality that can do them (and their patients) a lot of good. Some are finding online communities meet the need.
A service called Sermo is the largest social network for doctors, with a reported 50,000 members. Ozmosis is a similar physician community that's still in the beta (pre-launch) stage.
Both allow doctors to share favorite journal articles and research by using social bookmarking functions (like users of del.icio.us), vote resources and postings up or down (like Digg), or, like participants in any public online forum, ask and answer questions or join discussions. These range from exchanges about unusual cases to talk about the role of drug companies in doctors' lives.
As the websites describe it, the idea is that when doctors share ideas with trusted colleagues in real time, knowledge spreads more quickly, resulting in faster adoption of best clinical practices--and, ideally, better patient outcomes.
If this sounds like a great way for you to get first-hand medical information right from the source. . .you're out of luck.
Sermo and Ozmosis are both open to doctors only. And all applicants are authenticated before they can participate in the community.
See the full post and comments here.