by Dan Bowman -- Associate Editor, FierceHealthcare
FierceHealthcare recently got the opportunity to talk with Dr. Jason Bhan, a practicing family physician co-founder of Ozmosis: The Trusted Physician's Network. Prior to starting Ozmosis, Dr. Bhan served as a consultant and medical adviser to Medsite, where he helped develop the company's core strategy for e-detailing and online physician retention. Dr. Bhan also served as the Medical and Technology Officer for VirtualMed, Inc. and helped launch MiamiHealth.com, which provided physicians with an online presence.
We asked Dr. Bhan about the early days of Ozmosis, as well as his opinions on physicians migrating online and healthcare reform.
FierceHealthcare: Please briefly explain what Ozmosis is for people who might not have heard of it.
Jason Bhan: The concept behind Ozmosis is that physicians need a place where they can exchange medical, clinical, practice management and policy information, discuss cases, review journal articles or any other information on the web in a trusted environment; somewhere where there aren't other eyes looking in, and they can be assured that the other people they're talking to on the site are, in fact, physicians, peers or colleagues. So, what we strive for is a high level of discussion, a high quality of discussion between our members.
The idea came about as I matriculated from residency to reality. Even though I practiced in a group [with a number of other physicians], I was relatively isolated. So between myself and other physicians and colleagues that I had at the time, we thought that there was this great resource out there in the Internet; it was the bourgeoning time of Web 2.0 and all these tools were popping up everywhere to help everybody connect, to help anybody build networks and ask questions and figure things out. The concept was to take some of the ideas from the tools that were out there, apply them specifically to medicine and physicians, and build something that would benefit us. That's really where the premise of Ozmosis came from.
Today, it's a place where physicians are participating every day, and we take privacy and trust very seriously. Physicians, as they join, are vetted--they go through a multi-step, real-time process, being verified as physicians, and then being verified as the person who they say they are--so we verify both their license and their actual online identity. We use real identities online, so people will have a username, but basically there's no question about who you’re talking to; and similar to LinkedIn or Facebook, not only who you’re talking to, but what your relationship with that person is.
FH: So when did you start Ozmosis?
JB: Myself and my co-founder, Joel Selzer--who's not a physician, but an MBA from the University of Virginia--we started talking about the idea in mid-2006, and really started forming the company in 2006. We started working on the technology platform in 2007, and launched our alpha-platform in early ’08. We did that with a core group of physicians who believed in the vision and it's been growing steadily since then.
FH: How many physicians are currently on Ozmosis?
JB: I don't have the exact number, and while it is fewer than some of our competitors out there, what we've really been striving for is not necessarily numbers, but more quality of interaction—quality of conversation. I'd much rather have what we have, which is a smaller, more vibrant and active group, than just a lot of numbers to throw around.
FH: What sorts of competition do you have in this field?
JB: Well, there's a bunch of different physician social networks out there. The ones that people have probably heard of the most are Sermo and Medscape Connect. These are the ones that are touting the largest member bases. They tout a lot of numbers, but the activity levels of most physician networks are a little lower than the general population of social networks.
We feel it has a lot to do with some of the fundamental issues with some of the physician networks out there. Sermo is an anonymous community, so I think physicians have some difficulty trusting what information they gather from the networks, while Medscape Connect is essentially a discussion board for physicians that lacks any of the tools that physicians really need to have meaningful interchanges and exchanges.
FH: What do you attribute to a good portion of doctors being on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, as opposed to some of these other "physician-only" networking sites?
JB: Different purposes. When I look at social media for physicians, they can engaged in it in a few different ways: One is--and the purpose for Ozmosis is--to communicate and collaborate with colleagues. A second way that physicians can utilize social media is to communicate with their patients. A third way that physicians can use social media in marketing and self-promotion.
That's really what we've seen so far--Twitter works well as a way for physicians to market and build their own brand--but we haven't seen much in the way of physician-patient communication, primarily for privacy issues. Similarly, with physician-to-physician communication there may be some high-level conversations that occur, but you're really not going to see much in the way of "hey guys, I have a question about this case, can you help?" Facebook is similar--you may see patients connecting with their physicians, but there's not a lot of communication; you see more marketing activity on Facebook.
The other way that Twitter has become useful is if folks read an article or see something on the web that they find interesting, they can pass that along. There's actually a fairly good-sized health community on Twitter, and that's the general exchange that occurs between them.
FH: Do you see more communication between doctors and patients migrating to this format in the future?
JB: There are some platforms out there. There's definitely an opportunity for physicians to communicate with their patients through social media outlets. It's likely going to be less about Twitter for direct communication; Twitter's going to be the place where you're able to communicate to everybody that you updated some information on your website, or your flu vaccines are in for the year, etc; for general sort of announcements. It's certainly less about the individual patient.
Once you start talking about individual patient communications, HIPAA kicks in. We're pretty restricted as to what we can say without it being encrypted, so that’s where I see Twitter as really playing a good role for physicians, is to get information out to a larger audience.
One of the things we don't do well as physicians is communicate before and after the doctor's office visit. Before you're at the office, you're life is a mystery, and after you leave the office, everything is still a mystery. What we need to get good at is maintaining that communication or level of care in between visits, and I think this is one good way to do that.
FH: Why do you think that social media and an online presence is so important for the medical community, and how long do you think it will take before physicians being online is less the exception and more the rule?
JB: I definitely think it's important for physicians to be online. I think baby steps are important. Most folks aren't going to just leap in with both feet and have a Facebook account, a Twitter account, a blog and a website for their practice. Taking one step at a time is definitely important for most physicians who are not technology averse, but are just busy maintaining their current level of activities with the practice.
What social media tools really allow us to do is actually become more efficient at helping to manage the health of our population. That is why physicians need to be, and will eventually be, online. I think it'll happen sooner rather than later, as the people continue to find out that social media and all these online tools are really helping them, empowering them. They're not going to stand by and let physicians ignore this new technology. The last time the Internet bubble came up, physicians said, "well, this is really great, but we like doing things our own way, so we’re just going to keep doing things the old way." They weren't ready to buy into the technology.
But I don't think that’s going to happen this time. Patients are going to demand that their physicians are online savvy and able to communicate with them in the way that they want to be communicated with.
FH: So, where do you see healthcare five to 10 years down the road?
JB: That's a complicated question, mostly because of what's going on in the administration today. I'm honestly not sure what's going to happen to healthcare as a service provider, but I do see an absolute shift from the dependence on paper and the old way of doing things to having a dependence on technology, and social media's just one of those technologies that's going to play an integral role in healthcare in the future.
FH: What are your thoughts on the current attempts at healthcare reform? Do you think we're going about this the right way?
JB: I think it's a little scary to try to make one sweeping bill that's going to change and reform healthcare, altogether. We have a system that's incredibly entrenched in this country, and people are used to getting what they want when then want it; that's part of the spirit of America. Given that, and this giant reform bill that's coming through, I have trouble believing that it will get passed without it being heavily watered down by all the different interest groups out there. Then, the question is, is it really reform? Or is it just small changes?
I'm actually in favor of taking small steps toward change, as opposed to making these massive, sweeping changes. But there are a lot of aspects to the healthcare system that I don't pretend to understand, and there are folks out there a lot smarter than me who are working on this. So at some point, we have to defer to someone's better judgment.
FH: What does the future holds for Ozmosis?
JB: There's always something exciting going on. We're constantly getting feedback from our members and deciding which new and interesting directions to take the site in. One thing that I will mention: A couple of months ago, we launched a service called Health Alerts. This is for physicians to have access to real-time situation reports about emerging infectious diseases in the United States.
So, if there were an outbreak of a disease that was causing some concern, the physician could get a real-time alert and check on a state level to see what's going on in their state, what's going on in their county, and improve awareness of what a patient may be coming into the office with. An example of that right now as we see the influenza season getting ready to rev up, there are alerts coming out that are looking at clusters of influenzas that occur in hospitals and nursing homes and communities, and physicians can get real-time updates about where those clusters are and understand how it may affect them.
We've partnered with a company called Veratect, and they are one of the leading companies out there doing global biosurveillance. We've formed a partnership with them to provide their U.S.-based feeds, as well as some international ones that may effect the U.S. The Ozmosis-Veratect solution helps to get information to physicians at the point of care, as opposed to waiting for a fax from the health department.