Online interaction with professional colleagues has become an invaluable tool for thousands of doctors across the world who have embraced professional online networks, which allow them to communicate and collaborate in a secure online environment that cannot be accessed by the general public.
Data from Manhattan Research shows the main reason that doctors in France, Italy, Spain, Germany and the UK access physician-only social networks is to stay up-to-date with medical information (66%); while 48% do so to get information efficiently.
Other data from Manhattan Research shows 35% of doctors access physician-only social networks to ask a clinical question.
The benefits that doctors can derive from working together online to share best practice in this way are enormous.
For example, UK doctors posted over 500,000 comments, questions and answers in the Doctors.net.uk online forum in 2011. Questions were often answered in minutes, with opinions provided across the many specialties within medicine.
This enables doctors to update their knowledge quickly and efficiently and means patients with rare conditions and apparently inexplicable symptoms are treated faster and more effectively. Furthermore, doctors who answer questions gain kudos and respect within the medical community at large.
In addition to sharing best practice online, many doctors also gain ongoing professional qualifications via the internet, which enables them to learn at their own pace and at a time that suits them.
In fact, statistics show that in recent years more and more doctors have been turning to digital channels for continuous professional development (CPD) and eight out of 10 GPs rate online learning as one of the most useful things about the Internet, according to research by medeConnect.
In the coming weeks, we will explore doctors' use of online professional networks in more detail and explain how pharma companies should respond to the engagement opportunities they represent.
By Simon Grime, Managing Director of Communications for Doctors.net.uk - the UK's largest and most active network of medical professionals