Many clinicians, either individually or through their practice group, maintain a website or social media presence as a service to their patients. For the individual practitioner or small group, very affordable web authoring and hosting services are available commercially. Large groups and institutions typically maintain their own websites and assist individual providers in representing themselves in a standardized way. Offering clinical information to patients or communicating patient-related health information over the Internet requires consideration of ethical and legal issues. Providing medical content can be construed as formal medical advice. As always, general patient education material and online recommendations should be followed by instructions directing patients to first discuss any suggested lifestyle or medication changes with a clinician before adoption.
Many clinicians use online resources for references and to obtain continuing medical education. Numerous high-quality medical news websites are available, and most medical journals offer direct access to current and archived issues to individual subscribers and institutions. Websites specifically aimed at clinicians provide a constantly expanding repository of information, and several websites have established a favorable brand reputation.
Informal consultations among clinicians are common, but historically have been limited to the offices and conference rooms within a health care setting or at periodic academic meetings. The Internet and its dramatic reduction in barriers to communication have made these activities continuous and far-reaching. Many online discussion forums are available for health care providers with similar interests. A prominent example is Patients Like Me, http://www.patientslikeme.com/, which caters to the public and provides forums for a variety of chronic diseases, while Sermo, http://www.sermo.com/, is directed at physicians. Some require registration demonstrating credentials (eg, medical license number), and moderators may monitor postings for accuracy and relevance.
Lastly, instant messaging applications allow real-time, synchronous text chat and file exchange with other online users such as patients and other clinicians. Clinicians should remember that although instant messaging provides the appearance of a private discussion, those systems broadly used by consumers are not secure and do not provide suitable security for discussion of confidential information.
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