Social networking is a hit but will it change practice?

There's been a lot of talk in the media lately about physicians' enthusiasm for social networking. But how will it impact on the way they practice medicine?.

There's been a lot of talk in the media lately about physicians' enthusiasm for social networking. According to a recent analysis by market research firm Manhattan Research, more than 60% of doctors now participate in or plan to join online communities such as Sermo or Medscape Physician Connect, to name two of the largest sites.

It's easy to see how having instant access to a secure, private community of colleagues might be useful when making tricky diagnoses or treatment decisions. The proliferation of medical bloggers is also helping to keep physicians connected and engaged in current research and clinical controversies. Physicians are even jumping on the Twitter bandwagon, although it's less obvious how this may impact actual practice. Some think it may have educational value. CNN reported recently on a surgeon in a Detroit hospital who “Twittered” through a partial nephrectomy. The surgeon said it was a chance to engage the public in understanding complex medical procedures.

The Manhattan Research study noted that doctors who participate in online networks write an average of 24 more prescriptions per week than their offline colleagues. Does that mean that physicians who share their thoughts confidentially or anonymously will be besieged by pharmaceutical advertising based on their latest postings? Or will the effect be more subtle, or even positive, if pharma uses its newfound intelligence to better understand how physicians practice? ACP Internist will be following the trend as it develops. We'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions about social networking and what effect, if any, it's having on medical practice.

As you browse the issue, I hope you will take a few minutes to let us know what you think and what topics you'd like to see covered in future issues. Have a comment about the latest Ethical Dilemmas column by guest commentator Paul S. Mueller, FACP, or a challenging case study suggestion for Jerome Groopman, FACP, and Pamela Hartzband, FACP's next Mindful Medicine column? E-mail us. And be sure to follow the latest news on our own online social networking community, our blog, which is updated daily.