Secure social media sites aim to put physicians back on top of technological gains


Everybody talks, but further and further down the professional tunnel, that communication becomes muddled, processed and reconstructed. It’s a tedious procedure, but one of particular importance for healthcare’s HIPAA-bound employ.

Privacy laws have become an industry, double-edged Excalibur in the technological age — medical records are kept properly under wraps, while other patient desires (such as the want for the utmost connectedness with doctors) are held hostage by HIPAA’s harsh, albeit necessary, blade. Especially on the grounds of social media, the risk of lawsuit impalement for physicians is dangerously high. 

And the resulting communicatory trepidation enacted to prevent infringement comes at its own lofty cost.

“Do your job without email for a week or two and see how much communication you have and see how out of the loop you are on new developments and new things going on,” challenged Jeff Tangey, CEO of Doximity.com, a professional social networking platform geared specifically toward physicians. “That’s what it’s like to be a physician.”

This stagnant behavior doesn’t start with doctors themselves, either — its managed to percolate through to healthcare technology developers as well. With fear as a powerful motivator, a massive shift in innovation agenda has left much of the industry curiously behind the tech times.

“The impact on healthcare — I think it’s pretty gigantic,” Tangey continued. “The technology used in healthcare to communicate between practices today really hasn’t changed since the 1970s. It used to be, pre-internet, that the newest, most expensive communication technology was applied to physicians first because they were the ones that needed it. Now the patient sitting in the waiting room has much, much better technology in the palm of their hand than the doctors working in the exam rooms. And I think the main shackle there is HIPPA.”

So what is a profession to do with its chains? Can physicians seek temporary exile -- or better, a sanctuary forum -- where laws don’t loom ominously over every email or instagrammed X-ray?

According to Tangey, such digital, social safe-havens already exist and are well on their way to prominence. The trick to creating such a place, requires three key developer considerations:

“Overall, HIPAA is about encryption, identification and archiving, the hardest part being identification,” Tangey explained, using Doximity as an example. Tangey and company essentially act as bouncers “holding the velvet rope,” making sure member credentials check out and that all correspondence is completely encrypted. From these meticulous first advances is eventually born a secure, HIPAA-compliant LinkedIn.

What’s more, Tangey sees other developers climbing aboard the secure social media train as a means to get physicians back out ahead of virtual advancement.

“I think social media has shown us how easy it should be to share an image, to discuss a tough problem, to post on someone’s wall to see what others think of something,” he said. “And it’s longer term impact, which hasn’t been felt yet, is the combination of the poke, the message, the friend connection, this kind of malleable directory of people that you are connected to will serve as a model for how healthcare will start to communicate.”

While all social media endeavors present their own risks — “the risk is it can waste time. Getting noisy emails from pharma reps and from patients who aren’t in your practice but see that you have this expertise and want you to answer a question without understanding the inside implications of sending you that note” — overall, the positive aspects seem to outweigh the negative.

“There are an endless number of studies indicating that better communication means better results,” Tangey noted.

For primary care physicians everywhere, better communication could be little more than a poke away from both patients, peers and privacy.