September 17. 2012 2:00AM

Medical app eases communication among doctors

Innovations

By Erica Breunlin

  
While most professionals rely upon email and social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook to communicate with colleagues, physicians such as Dr. Michael Thompson have long been limited to less efficient modes of communication, such as the fax machine.
Doximity smartphone application and website for physicians

Although Thompson, a hematologist oncologist at ProHealth Care in Waukesha, can use his medical facility's protected electronic medical record system, Epic software, and its internal email system to transfer information to ProHealth Care employees, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) prevents him from being able to share patient information with colleagues at other facilities through email and social media portals.

Doximity, a developing smartphone application and website, is helping break these medical communication barriers.

With more than one in seven U.S. physicians subscribing to the virtual communication platform, Doximity is revolutionizing the way doctors and health care professionals exchange information and is even reshaping their approach to diagnosing patients.

"Just like many people now wake up and check their Facebook status and see what is happening with people they know, we now have a Facebook for physicians that is the first real name authenticated, online professional network where physicians can communicate in a secure environment," Thompson said.

Doximity Inc. chief executive officer Jeff Tangney, well known for helping establish the medical software company Epocrates, Inc., created the app and corresponding website with a lofty vision.

"It's pretty audacious or ambitious, but our goal at Doximity here is to be the replacement for the fax machine or to be the medical network," Tangney said.
Tangney

According to Tangney, who received his bachelor's degree in economics and math at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, doctors spend about 10 percent of their time simply trying to reach other doctors on the phone.

He recalls one doctor joking that the best communication technology in his office routinely sits in the waiting room in teenagers' hands. While the doctor's teenage patients tweet, text and surf the Internet with the latest and greatest communication devices, if he needs to send a photo of a rash to a dermatologist he must use a fax machine to comply with HIPAA laws.

Doximity launched in early 2011 after six months of beta testing with the core purpose of sharing medical information using contemporary technology.

"Now the iPhone is a connection to all the best minds in medicine," Tangney said.

As a private physicians' network, Doximity provides a forum in which medical professionals can create full profiles and list publications and grants they're working on, ask each other questions and respond, aggregate news with the most up-to-date medical information, electronically fax documents, send messages among users, and access full manuscripts of some medical journals.

Thompson regularly taps into a Twitter-like feature called iRounds where people post both questions and medical topics of general interest. Much of his usage revolves around keeping on top of new medical developments, not always related to oncology or his cases.

The free app is also convenient for cross-disciplinary communications, he said.

Authenticating new Doximity users typically takes about a week and requires users to submit their drug enforcement agency number – a private, assigned number that allows a doctor to prescribe medication – as well as answer credit report questions and in some cases fax or e-mail a copy of their board certification. These steps ensure the legitimacy of each doctor wanting to create a profile.

Information exchanged via Doximity is encrypted so that it accommodates HIPAA regulations. Doximity, Inc. profits off the app by finding medical experts for clients such as people looking for an opinion or second opinion on a tough medical case. Clients pay Doximity to find the medical experts, and they also pay the medical experts directly for their time.

While the original communication intention of Doximity has remained intact, Tangney's team is constantly adding new features at the requests of physicians. One of the most recent additions allows users to look at the on call schedules of their medical facilities so that they know which physician to contact during a particular shift. Doximity also has an iPad-compatible app in the works. Current versions of the app are available on Android, the iPhone and the Web.

According to Tangney, the app has proven particularly helpful for physicians during follow ups on referral. For example, an orthopedic surgeon performing a hip surgery can instantly use Doximity to send a quick note regarding the patient's status to the patient's primary care physician. A phone call or fax could accomplish the same task but would require more legwork.

"Everyone's more in sync," Tangney said.

While Thompson believes that any medical professional could benefit from Doximity's services, he said it's an especially innovative tool for physicians in smaller facilities or isolated communities who don't have regular access to other medical professionals.

"This really is even incrementally more beneficial because they otherwise wouldn't have that same community," Thompson said.

And it's been a significant timesaver for physicians like Thompson whose schedules allow little flexibility. In addition to streamlining communication, it enables doctors to triage and filter interesting, relevant information.

To Tangney, Doximity represents a private market solution helping the health care industry communicate more like a system. As technology continues to evolve, he hopes to gain the membership of more doctors and envisions Doximity pairing the right specialty physician with the right patient to communicate health problems as efficiently as possible.

And as the health care field continues to evolve with changes in electronic medical record systems, changes to the fee for service model, and consolidations among companies, Thompson is glad to have a central platform to navigate the transitions.

"It's a period of a lot of change in medicine, so when that's happening it's nice to have that peer group to be able to discuss things," Thompson said. n

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