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The UK's largest professional online network of doctors, Doctors.net.uk has been supporting the medical community for a quarter of a century. Our anniversary gives us pause for thought, a time to consider where we started, what we have achieved as a community and where we are heading in a world of rapid change.
Our launch in 1998 coincided with a series of medical and digital advances. Scientists achieved a new milestone in the Human Genome Project by producing a new 'gene map' pinpointing the chromosomal locations of almost half of all genes, while the Nematode Caenorhabditis elegans became the first multicellular organism to have its whole genome sequencing published. It was also the year the first robotically assisted coronary artery bypass surgery was performed, Microsoft became the world's biggest company, and Google was founded.
During these giant leaps forward, a quieter, but nonetheless significant change in medical communications was taking place. The inception of Doctors.net.uk presaged a digital revolution that has supported and empowered medical professionals ever since. During the past 25 years it has become a powerful community that provides support for doctors while bridging communication between pharma and HCPs.
Doctors.net.uk Medical Director, Rick Pullinger, said: "Members know that this is a unique and trusted platform. Where else can doctors initiate and read discussions amongst colleagues using anything from small, closed groups to large special interest groups or the whole medical community? Where else can they share thoughts with other doctors about professional issues, clinical dilemmas, personal tribulations, sports, hobbies and the ramifications of medical news?"
This award-winning closed community was one of the first of any networking sites to be introduced on the worldwide web. It is more than a strong community of shared interest. It acts as one of the most effective mediums to reach the most important stakeholders.
For example, it has been recognised by the Department of Health and Social Care as the go-to channel for GMC-registered medics, providing rapid communications for consultations and proposed legislation. It was used by the Department of Health in 2012 as the exclusive channel to consult doctors over the proposed Medical Innovation Bill. Feedback informed the draft legislation which, as a result, was adapted and became The Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Act.
It is also a trusted channel through which doctors, and pharma communicate. Katy McPherson – Head of Commercial Excellence and Media Sales, said: "Being a closed community of GMC-verified doctors, Doctors.net.uk offers industry the opportunity to communicate with their target audience within a trusted, independent platform. Granular profiling means smarter targeting, enabling pharma to reach relevant doctors - not only delivering value for money for them, but providing clinically relevant information to the right doctor at the right time – strengthening the relationship/ dialogue between the industry and the healthcare profession, building trust."
Doctors.net.uk came into its own during the covid pandemic where doctors needed access to rapidly changing data and guidance.
During the covid crisis:
Doctors.net.uk also provided vital wellbeing support for overstretched and exhausted medical staff during the pandemic through the Covid Hub. The Hub enabled members to share experiences and ideas with colleagues in a safe space, allowing doctors to find solutions to their challenges, stresses and strains and to normalise their feelings.
Dr Pullinger: "In the context of escalating workload, clinical, political and professional challenges, the availability of a safe space to share questions and views with other doctors seems to be increasingly vital to the UK medical community."
Doctors.net.uk's parent company, M3 - the three 'Ms' being medicine, media, and metamorphosis – was founded with the goal of changing the medical environment through the power of the internet. A huge part of this is recognising how important it is for pharma to be able to talk to, inform, update and advise medical partitioners while respecting how busy and time-poor HCPs are.
In this context, imparting information on best practice and effective use and delivery of medical products is vital. Information-sharing must be super-efficient and easy to consume. During the pandemic, the number of in-person pharma marketing contacts dropped considerably with the slack taken up by digital communication. Doctors.net.uk was ahead of the curve on this, providing the channels for quick information crucial in a dynamic pandemic that required instant adaptation as new data flowed in, challenging assumptions based on epidemiological modelling that, at best, had a brutally short half-life.
Today, the impact of Covid-19 is still very present in healthcare. Faced with increasing wait times and delays in patient diagnosis and treatment, many healthcare systems are struggling with ever-growing pressures on doctors' time. M3's own research suggests around half of doctors surveyed across the EU5 expect to spend half or more of their engagement time with pharma online – about twice the level seen before the pandemic.
M3 researcher Dr Maxim Polyakov, said: "At a very human level, it's important to recognise that there's been a huge cost to the healthcare profession, as doctors are still having to work harder because of staffing pressures and the huge numbers of patients who need to be seen."
Digital information sharing and communications between pharma and doctors reduced stress and saved patient lives. It has also left its mark on the medical communications model. Post-pandemic, it is evident that digital communications with pharmaceutical companies is both vital and here to stay. Within the digital space there are a raft of focussed channels, each fulfilling specific needs.
One such example, which has proved efficient and cost-effective, is the regular GP Omnibus survey, perhaps best likened to traditional, in-depth opinion polling. Each month, Doctors.net.uk sends out a BHBIA-compliant market survey to 1,000 GMC-registered GPs that can be broken down according to a wide range of data sets, including geographic location. Charged at a per-question rate, with uniquely high GP response rates, it allows pharma to track opinions over time and offer strong validation at speed which in turn allow pharma to adapt their approaches in close to real time.
This platform has spotted trends ahead of time, allowing it to offer solutions to rapidly changing challenges and practitioners' needs, creating a community that supports wellbeing as well as an effective forum for knowledge exchange and best practice. It is a heart and mind philosophy, that cares for its members and which, in turn, helps them care for their patients.
Without a doubt, technology and digital transformation will be changing the face of healthcare at unprecedented rates. And the Doctors.net.uk and M3 teams are very excited and energised for the journey of the next 25 years to come, with the ethos of creating connections and improving healthcare for all.