Facebook for doctors: CMA fosters online consults

The Canadian Medical Association has created a social networking tool that will encourage doctors to take a Facebook approach to exchange information about the patients in their care.

Developed for the CMA by Ottawa-based Practice Solutions, Asklepios is named after the Greek God of healing and gives users a personal profile page, links to group discussions and live chats. The service was recently tested among 135 physicians and will be showcased at the CMA’s 141st Annual General Council in Montreal this week.

The CMA already offers a portal called MyDoctor.ca that was launched in April to facilitate online communication between patients and their care providers. Asklepios is intended to be more of a Web-based community for geographically dispersed medical professionals who might not ordinarily be able to bounce questions off each other.

“Often when you’re taking care of patients, you run into a problem you just can’t figure out yourself. It’s very useful to have access to other colleagues,” said Dr. Jay Mercer, an Ottawa-based physician who also serves as medical director at Practice Solutions. He gave the example of a recent case in which he was unable to get what he needed from a pap smear.

“I put a question on the pilot (version of Asklepios) and got some very useful hints that I wasn’t aware of,” he said. “I’ve been in practice for a while, but these were great ideas on how to more reliably get the samples I needed. And these were two physicians that are not in my own network in Ottawa. One was from Toronto and one, who offered some really useful information, was from B.C.”

Physicians have not always been seen as eager adopters of IT, particularly electronic medical records systems that are replacing paper-based ways to managing information at many Canadian health-care organizations. However Maggie Fox, principal at Dundas, Ont.-based consultancy Social Media Group, said a demographic shift is starting to change that.

“As you see younger generations start to enter the medical profession, the reality is people just use these tools a lot,” she said, citing a Jupiter Media report released earlier this year that showed 58 per cent of doctors recommend Web sites to their patients. “One third of physicians use online blogs. They’re also considered high influencers – they’re the ones that both collect and also share. They’re conduits for information.”

Mercer noted that most doctors also now use e-mail and other productivity tools. “For things that fit easily into their day-to-day workflow, the takeup is quite rapid,” he said. “We tried to run a very restricted pilot, but we weren’t successful, because the people in the pilot then invited their friends.”

Nurses and medical students have been big users of social media, Fox added, and Asklepios may provide a more comfortable vehicle for physicians. “The CMA always had a registry of doctors that was online that you could search. Allowing them to connect with each other just seems like the natural next step,” she said.

The CMA said Asklepios is only open to Canadian physicians, residents and medical students and is securely hosted in Canada where all data is protected.

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