MD Helpdesk

Sep 01, 2002

Physicians and the medical societies they belong to lag behind patients in building effective online communities. Although industry observers dismiss doctors as "late adopters" of new technology, the truth is that healthcare professionals will collaborate over the web only when they deem it beneficial-when it saves time or money or improves the quality of patient care.

To help usher in that change, Johns Hopkins Medicine founded the MedBiquitous Consortium. The group consists of 23 professional medical societies including the American Medical Association, pharma and other healthcare companies-Pfizer, Aventis, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca among them-and government partners such as the National Library of Medicine. Information technology powerhouses such as IBM provide comment. They are looking to build a standard technology platform to help create online communities, to improve existing ones, and to make worldwide information exchange and collaboration within a specialty possible.

The consortium's development of XML code, software, and computing standards will enable systems to exchange data and integrate information from worldwide sources. In much the same way that travel agents search for flights to a destination through various airline carriers, physicians can access an online continuing medical education course, for example, from almost anywhere in the world without leaving their own group's website. And, because sites are organized around specialties, doctors will have a one-stop shop for all their information, education, and resource needs. Although medical societies retain control over posted content, the site is an ideal place for pharma to target a specific physician audience with news of product approvals, warnings, clinical updates, and education efforts.

"Healthcare in general has disintegrated, and bringing people together is a major challenge," says Mike Magee, MD, senior medical advisor for Pfizer and a MedBiquitous board member. "Information systems can help the organized medical world, which is supported primarily by membership dues." He says MedBiquitous member medical societies can download software from www.medbiq.org for little or no cost, which enables interactivity with other society sites.

When completed, consortium sites will resemble the Cardiothoracic Surgery Network, found at www.CTSNet.org, which combines 40 organizations and delivers the field's major journals, online discussion forums, event listings, clinical resources, and product information. In time, MedBiquitous will expand its software offerings to include clinical trial recruitment and other services.

Corporations pay for a three-year membership based on annual revenue. A company that earns between $15 and $50 million would owe $15,000 for three years, while nonprofit organizations pay just $5,000 for three years. A spokesperson for the organization says pharma companies that join may have a competitive advantage because they can incorporate the consortium's standards and protocols into their advance planning for marketing materials and strategy.