Sermo, an American social
networking site exclusively for physicians, plans
to allow Canadian doctors to join later this year
Illustration courtesy of
Dr Ann Mai, an Ottawa-born internist
who now lives in Los Angeles, sits at her computer and
goes online. She launches a favourite site, types in
her user name and password. Soon a question from another
physician pops up on her screen: 'Can patients use celecoxib
in the days leading up to a surgery? The drug company
says it's safe,' the doctor writes. Dr Mai, who's never
met the other doctor in her life, clicks on his question
and writes, "I don't use it. I don't want to use COX
inhibitors just being extra cautious." Meanwhile,
another doctor reports he's seen a post-op GI bleed
in a similar case.
This recent exchange took place
on the physician social networking website Sermo.com,
which in just a year and a half has amassed nearly 50,000
Sermo is at the vanguard of a new
generation of internet tools developed over the last
few years that have got doctors to rethink the way they
interact with one another.
This new breed of physician-targeted
social networking website which promise to help
doctors collaborate and exchange advice about clinical
issues, practice management and even vacation spots
and hobbies is still in its infancy. But the
trend is picking up speed and later this year Canadian
doctors will finally be admitted to the club.
Sermo (Latin for 'speech' or 'conversation') was founded
by a Boston surgeon named Daniel Palestrant in 2006.
It's since become immensely popular in the US. It's
not only free to join, but it also pays up to $100 to
docs who write particularly thoughtful or useful comments.
Because Sermo verifies all members are doctors by asking
for their Drug Enforcement Administration numbers, the
conversations are candid and uncensored. Sermo doesn't
feature any advertising; its revenues come from an "information
arbitrage" system in which the company sells access
to doctors' opinions to investors, including hedge funds
and pharma companies.
The company has caught the eye
of Canadian doctors, too; nearly 1,000 have requested
to be admitted. A Sermo spokesperson told NRM
the company plans to allow Canadian physicians to join
later this year.
Professional networking websites operate on a simple
theory: large groups of people are smarter than small
ones. Got a question? Instead of hollering down the
hospital hallway, type it into Sermo or another similar
website and get advice from a pool of thousands of doctors.
One of those other websites is
Arizona-based Tiromed.com (another Latin derivative,
for 'novice'), which Dr Ann Mai helped start in 2006
as a social networking site for med students and residents
to connect with physician mentors. It boasts about 2,500
users from at least 60 countries around the world. "If
there are Canadian physicians who are interested in
travelling to other countries or learning about training
programs or licensing in other countries, this is the
site for them," says co-founder and former med student
Other websites, such as Relaxdoc.com
(which, like Sermo, currently requires verification
as a US doctor to join, and is also planning a Canadian
expansion in 2008) and Doctors Hangout, focus on making
friends and chatting about shared interests.
Dr Ron Lett, the president of the nonprofit Canadian
Network for International Surgery, is one of Canada's
early adopters of physician social networking. Dr Lett
was introduced to the hugely popular social networking
website Facebook when, returning from a humanitarian
trip in Africa, he was surprised to find his email inbox
overflowing. "I had all these requests to be friends
with my children," he recalls, speaking by phone from
Uganda, where he's currently working. "I didn't know
quite what it was but I didn't want to turn down requests
to be friends with my children."
Dr Lett got a Facebook account
and immediately recognized the benefit that social networking
could have for the Canadian Network for International
Surgery's communications and public outreach activities.
He oversaw the creation of the organization's 54-member
But social networking need not
be used only for networking with colleagues. Dr Lett
has two accounts one personal and one professional.
"For physicians, if you want to know what your kids
are up to you, you should get online," says Dr Lett.
"I once told my sister, 'Hey, did you know your son
is engaged?' She got on Facebook quick."