Healthcare relies almost as much on teamwork as it does on clinical expertise. Specialists ranging from surgeons and anesthesiologists to nurses, dieticians, and physical therapists consult with general practitioners and emergency room surgeons in their quest to give patients longer, better lives. Yet these professionals all too often rely on antiquated communications tools that hinder and delay collaboration.
In a world of Facebook and Twitter, it makes little sense for clinicians to spend so much time waiting for pages to be returned or for faxes to be sent, Dr. Jon Shaw, an emergency room surgeon and co-founder and CEO of DocCom, told me this morning. Yet healthcare demands stringent adherence to security and governance mandates, both in the UK, where DocCom is based, and in the US, where Shaw says his company will also flourish.
Clinicians still walk around with pagers on their belt. There's nothing more frustrating than trying to speak to the cardiologist. To have a simple conversation, I have to go through the switchboard, punch in a number, and wait for callback. It's very frustrating. The problem is, while we all use mobile phones, one-to-one conversations are not enough. A lot of conversations around treatment are joint treatment decisions. It's very difficult to have a conversation that's compliant. You have to really work in healthcare to have to understand how archaic the technology is.
Created to address his own collaboration challenges, DocCom is a "clinical social network" whose Facebook-like capabilities will be integrated this year into electronic medical records, allowing healthcare professionals to work together on patient care while accessing related records, Shaw said. British providers, including the Royal Marsden and the Guys and St. Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, have signed multiyear deals with DocCom. The social network has more than 7,000 clinician users.
The encrypted, cloud-based solution -- which complies with ISO 27001, N3 IGTK, HIPAA, and the European Data Protection Act -- features secure messaging, member profiles and directory, file sharing, and groups and is available in Basic, Managed, and Enterprise tiers and price points.
Doctors and nurses are very busy people, particularly in a hospital setting, but also in community care. They're not sitting at a desk. They're on their feet. They work in evolving, changing teams who operate in different shifts. That in itself is an incredibly challenging environment. Pagers are just a means of getting hold of someone. They're not communication. Email can't really cope with the burden of conversation. Even though we try and use email, email doesn't work in a healthcare setting, to be honest.
It Takes a Team
Healthcare often takes more than one clinician -- a process that's simplified through collaborative social networks that use validation to confirm users' identities.
To be fully effective, DocCom must integrate with EMRs, so that clinicians can access and discuss patients' records, Shaw said. The company just received a £207,000 ($316,000) Technology Strategy Board grant to put toward that integration.
The developer is entering a "strategic partnership" with an integrator (which he would not name) that will assimilate the technologies and resell the social network to prospective clients. "There'll be value-add on both sides," he said. "It'll be a strategic collaboration, not just a technical one."
That challenge appears relatively easy to surmount, despite the wide variety of EMRs available, especially if DocCom focuses on those that dominate in marketshare. A bigger challenge is financing. To date, DocCom has raised about £2 million. "Invariably, we will need more funding. I think if we were based in the US, we would probably have raised more money."
Blue Cross/Blue Shield invited DocCom to present its solution in Illinois and North Dakota, but it wanted DocCom to create a US operation before it investigated any future relationship, Shaw said. DocCom couldn't make this move without an agreement from the insurer or another large US client.
Even without many of the hard-money ROI statistics that EMR integration will deliver -- reduced hospital stays from earlier diagnosis, testing, and treatment, as well as improved overall patient care -- clinicians are giving the dedicated social network positive feedback.
Given the choice between a healthcare team relying on old-fashioned tools or a team with access to a clinician social network like DocCom, which would you choose? Thought so.
— Alison Diana , ThinkerNet Editor, Internet Evolution