Collaborate, Don’t Compete: Learn to Leverage External Communities

As the online physicians' network Doximity continues to grow, the Society of Hospital Medicine aims to help members use the platform for better patient outcomes.

Early this year, online physician network Doximity caught our eye here at Associations Now when it announced it had surpassed the American Medical Association (AMA) in size.

That news sparked some broader concerns that associations are missing out on big opportunities to serve their members, pursue their missions, or generate revenue (or all three) when they let for-profit competition build the premier online communities in their industries. While I argued that Doximity is still a net positive for AMA’s mission, Maggie McGary also made a compelling case that associations “are leaving a lot of potential revenue on the table.” And later, in May, Deirdre Reid compiled a thorough look at just how many for-profit online communities are out there playing in industries that associations serve.

Being able to reach into a nonmember audience for the benefit of patient outcomes is just as attractive to us as being able to provide benefits exclusively to our members.

Well, Doximity has not stopped growing. Tuesday it announced a new milestone: 400,000 users enrolled, more than half of all physicians in the United States. At least one healthcare association, though, sees Doximity not as a competitor but as a key collaborator in pursuing its mission.

In November, the Society of Hospital Medicine released a new Post-Acute Care Transitions Toolkit, which guides hospital physicians (“hospitalists”) in improving the transition process for patients from the hospital back to home or into other care facilities. A key element of this process is effective and efficient sharing of information from hospitalist to outside physicians, and SHM will soon announce a collaboration with Doximity that will help hospitalists use the community platform’s HIPAA-compliant messaging tools for that exact purpose.

“SHM has the intellectual capital to put that that toolkit together. Doximity is a platform for the information to be exchanged,” says Ethan Gray, CAE, VP of membership, marketing, and communications at SHM. “So, this is a marriage between the best-practice resource and the platform that can facilitate the communication that we’re recommending in that transition of care.”

SHM does, in fact, have its own members-only community platform, Hospital Medicine Exchange, built for knowledge sharing within the hospitalist community, which Brendon Shank, associate VP of communications, says has “seen an amazing pickup” in usage since launch.

However, pointing hospitalists toward Doximity for transitions of care makes sense for SHM because that process specifically requires communication between hospitalists in SHM’s constituency and physicians outside the SHM audience. “We recognize, by design, we’re not built to be facilitators of transitions of care outside the hospital as well as an organization like Doximity is,” Gray says.

SHM made improved transitions of care a cornerstone initiative in 2008 to help decrease the rate of patient re-hospitalization. As SHM explains, research shows about 20 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are readmitted within 30 days of a hospital stay, which is estimated to cost Medicare more than $17 billion. The Post-Acute Care Transitions Toolkit is the latest resource in that effort, and it’s free to all (go read it yourself), not just SHM members.

A “large chunk” of SHM’s 14,000 members are already using Doximity, Gray says, so the new toolkit will give those physicians a clear set of guidelines for where the tool can fit into transitions of care. Meanwhile, the collaboration will help SHM get those guidelines into the hands of nonmember hospitalists using Doximity, as well. “Being able to reach into a nonmember audience for the benefit of patient outcomes is just as attractive to us as being able to provide benefits exclusively to our members,” Gray says.

Mission Drives Membership

The question of whether associations should build their own online communities, collaborate with external ones, or both is complicated, at least in part because serving members, pursuing mission, and generating revenue don’t always align perfectly. In this case, SHM sees the pursuit of mission (better patient outcomes) as a membership driver, even if the particular tool isn’t a members-only benefit, Shank says.

“We are all about promoting the hospitals’ medicine movement as a way to improve patient care for hospitalized patients, and we’ve found that value proposition to be very attractive for members, which is principally important for us,” he says. “But, by focusing on something that is larger than the organization, I think we find that we pull a lot of people into the movement that way, versus focusing on the immediate benefit to the hospitalists. Hospitalists want tools that improve care for hospitalized patients, and this is a way that Doximity and SHM can do that.”

I’m still unsure about whether an association like AMA should or could have developed a platform like Doximity. It’s a private community, but for those who haven’t seen the inside, “LinkedIn for doctors” is a close if not perfect analogy. After seeing a demo, though, it seems to me that it’s more than just a networking and discussion platform: The HIPAA-compliant fax/mail tool is the killer app, with the convenient directory for referrals a close second. However, like any network-based service, those tools work precisely because Doximity has built a critical mass of users—a critical mass that, one could argue, AMA already had.

In any case, Doximity is now a widely used tool in the healthcare field, and SHM offers an example of an association that aims to serve both members and nonmembers by helping them understand how to use it.

If you’re at a healthcare association, how are your members using Doximity? Or, for other associations, how are you approaching online communities that have arisen in your fields? Please share in the comments.

More than half of all U.S. doctors use the medical social network Doximity. (handout photo)

Joe Rominiecki

By Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki, manager of communications at the Entomological Society of America, is a former senior editor at Associations Now. MORE

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