HALIFAX – Many Canadian doctors have installed electronic health records to improve the way they care for patients. Some physicians have even created connections to local labs and hospitals to speed up the flow of information. However, something that was largely overlooked was improving the simple task of communicating between the doctors themselves – most of them still rely on phone and fax, a slow and laborious method at best.
Now, however, things are quickly changing. Already this year, more than 6,000 physicians across Canada have adopted a doctors’ communication solution called The Rounds, and it appears that about 20,000 will be aboard by fall. It’s a Facebook-like system that enables physicians to create groups and instantly communicate with those groups, just like they would on social media. Moreover, they can also conduct private, one-to-one discussions.
“It’s growing quickly, largely by word of mouth,” said Blair Ryan, CEO, who launched The Rounds in mid-2013 with two colleagues, Will Harris and Michael Clory, MD. “Specialty associations are promoting us,” he said, noting that it’s more effective to get the endorsement of a physician than to try advertising or cold calling.
The Rounds is now working with the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, which has set up a private network connecting ER doctors from coast-to-coast. If an emergency physician has a question, for example, about the best medication to prescribe, he or she can send out a general alert, or query one or two colleagues in particular.
Just like Facebook, as soon as someone answers, the physician who asked the question is notified.
Some physicians are using The Rounds several times a day, said Ryan. “It’s helped their workflow,” he said. “It’s much faster than using fax or the phone.”
In some instances, physicians have been using the platform to send referrals to colleagues, and to report back on tests, treatments and outcomes.
In the past, other organizations have tried to produce a solution that connected physicians to one another, including the Canadian Medical Association, which a few years back launched a system calledAsclepius. However, the systems were not easy to use, and didn’t offer group comments, instant messaging and alerting – features that are built into The Rounds.
“We interviewed 588 doctors to see what they wanted in a system of this kind,” said Ryan “They said they used Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare every day, and wanted tools that worked in the same way.”
That’s just what The Rounds did. “We’ve built a tool that could be used by a 14-year-old or a 55-year-old,” said Blair.
However, there are extra layers of security embedded in the system. First, The Rounds checks to see that each physician on the system is who he or she claims to be. A hospital-association is required, and the company manually calls the hospital to see if the person is who he or she claims to be.
The company web-site notes that The Rounds is HIPAA and PIPEDA compliant and incorporates Verisign security. Moreover, it has a medical advisory committee that users are encouraged to join.
As well, physicians must use their real names, rather than aliases, when communicating.
That’s because they’re expected to stand behind what they’re saying.
At the same time, the private nature of the network and its groups means that physicians are not monitored by outsiders, such as the CMA or government health ministries.
Ryan said The Rounds is free to physicians, and nearly free for associations. It earns revenues by allowing some space for advertisers to promote their products. For example, pharmaceutical companies can publicize new products.
According to the company, this too has its benefits, as physicians can quiz the pharma companies about the medications when convenient, instead of making time for reps during a busy workday. “You could catch up on the discussion about a new medication on a Sunday afternoon, with a beer or glass of wine at hand,” quipped Ryan.
There are ‘social networks’ in the United States for physicians, but The Rounds differs from them. “We focus on clinical discussions,” said Ryan. “There is one large social network for doctors in the U.S., but they don’t use their real names. There’s also another one, but it’s mainly for referrals.”
In future, The Rounds plans to expand to connect other types of healthcare professionals, including nurses and naturopaths. “The need to collaborate is not unique to medical doctors,” said Ryan.