Many ophthalmologists say that the most valuable part of attending annual meetings such as AAO or ASCRS is the ability to interact with their peers, especially one on one. Beyond the nonstop training courses and didactic sessions, it’s the random hallway encounter or lingering dinner that provides new insights and ideas to take back to one’s practice.
User meetings have traditionally been a good venue for information exchange, but that’s changed in the past few years with increasingly tight requirements that prevent discussion of any technique or use that is not officially “on label.” The net effect of such regulation is that peer exchange is being stifled, leaving physicians frustrated and wondering what is happening to freedom of speech in their professional lives.
Enter ShoutMD. Launched at this past AAO meeting, ShoutMD is an app that facilitates discussion among board-certified speciality physicians. It is free to join (available for Apple, Android, and desktop environments) and is designed to make it easy for MDs to ask each other questions, provide advice, and see what their colleagues are thinking—all from their smartphone.
Created by lifestyle health care startup ALPHAEON, ShoutMD launched initially in three medical specialties with a high proportion of self-pay elective procedures: plastic surgery, dermatology, and ophthalmology. Once a new user is registered (following verification of board certification), he or she is welcome to post a “shout” that can include commentary and/or a poll to survey his or her peers. A newsfeed can be scrolled through and articles of interest can be perused at the user’s convenience, liked or disliked, and commented on for others to see.
The ShoutMD platform is a hybrid of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. After Facebook reached the 500 million subscriber level, it became clear that it would become a commonly used tool and serve as a new advertising vehicle for anyone trying to reach a target audience. The problem with Facebook is that it doesn’t lend itself well to smaller, niche networks and their financial success is based on an advertising model to attract users to click-through and away from the platform. Twitter has immediacy of news but doesn’t allow a conversation to exceed 140 characters, thus not lending itself to more intellectual discussion. And LinkedIn, while effective for business networking, just isn’t much fun.
What is unique about ShoutMD is that it provides the best elements of the more common social networks but is limited to physicians and really valuable to those who want to have an impact on the direction of their profession. At an individual level, the tool helps physicians make self-pay lifestyle health care a more significant part of their practice.
A second unique feature is the inclusion of a “Shout Score” for each user that represents a combination of his or her influence among peers and level of engagement on the platform. Much like one’s Klout score (www.klout.com), which is an indication of online influence, the ShoutMD Shout Score can be used to assess the value of a physician’s engagement in the community. The competitive nature of physicians being what it is, users find themselves competing to build their shout score by adding more quality content and ideas and commenting on that of others, participating in polls, and reading and commenting on newsfeed articles.
Collaborating with the development team that is already working on its third major release in its first year, we have had a chance to participate on the platform and see firsthand the power of this network. The team is working feverishly to incorporate user suggestions to make the platform continuously better and easier to use. Over the coming months, users will be able to have group discussions, create more complex polls, and see their shout scores increase based on activity inside and outside the community.
Several interesting phenomena are already taking place on this specialized social network. Each is worth describing as follows:
1.Unique insights that cover both clinical and business topics.
The dialogue taking place on ShoutMD covers clinical insights, surgical tips, and business topics in fairly equal doses. If a particular topic is specialty-specific, the user can simply select that it only be viewed by peers in his or her specialty. Once a user posts a shout poll, within hours (even minutes), he or she will have feedback in the form of votes and comments from at least 10 to 20 users. This is a great way for a user to find out if others are thinking similarly about an issue and/or have new ideas to add to one’s thought process.
2. Cross-pollination among specialties.
From a business and customer experience standpoint, refractive surgeons have more in common with plastic surgeons and cosmetic dermatologists than with their colleagues in ophthalmology who don’t have interest or investment in self-pay. It’s been neat to see MDs go across the boundaries of their own specialty and weigh in on discussions initiated by someone outside of their area. Until now, there has been little opportunity to do that, as very few meetings take place that have board-certified MDs from multiple specialties in attendance.
3. A social aspect.
Surgeons, many of whom have been in practice for 20 to 30 years, are getting to know new colleagues because of their shared interest in self-pay, and it includes a social element (as with Facebook but lacking on LinkedIn). Over the holidays, users posted family pictures and one even posted a picture of her newborn grandchild, generating many comments and likes from users. ShoutMD is, in the truest sense of the word, evolving into a social network.
Unlike most public social networks, ShoutMD is free from advertising and plans to remain that way. Although owned by ALPHAEON, it is not censored or monitored to “scrub” away negative commentary on the company or its products. On the contrary, the company plans to use it as a means of learning what physicians want and need to help grow their self-pay practices. As a market research tool, it will provide insight into what products and services are needed. Additionally, it will become a vehicle for physician customers to contribute their voices in a way that ensures they are being heard. ShoutMD plans to expand this year to at least three additional specialties as well as geographies including Korea, Japan, and France.
ShoutMD provides a new vehicle for physicians to communicate with one another, which has been the heart and soul of progress within medicine. With increasingly stringent regulations defining what physicians can and cannot say to one another in certain venues, ShoutMD is a tool that serves to fill that need. Created as an app that is free to use by board-certified physicians, it also allows communication with other specialists who share a common interest in helping their practices become more self-reliant by increasing focus on elective medicine and lifestyle health care.