Hacking Silos at Medstro

socialized_medicineBy Jennifer J. Salopek

New website Medstro is bringing a social sensibility to the triple mission of academic medicine. Combining the status update and news feed features of Facebook with the conversational capabilities of an old-school online message board, Medstro aims to improve medical education, research, and patient care by giving doctors and medical students a space to connect and learn from one another in real time.

Jennifer Joe, MD, a nephrologist, bootstrapped and launched the social network with two colleagues, Jim Ryan and John Bachir, about a year ago. Its genesis lay in the challenges she encountered as a newly minted practicing physician.

“Doctors are really frustrated. They are facing heavy debt and constant practice changes, and there’s no organized way to confront and discuss these frustrations. We wanted to enable doctors and medical students to find others and to create fixes together,” she says.

Researchers can use Medstro to find medical students and residents to work on research projects. Event organizers can use it to coordinate the schedules of many different participants. New residents can use it to find friends in their institutions and geographic locations. Membership is free and members create robust user profiles that enable them to quickly identify common interests.

Medstro’s design is intended to facilitate collaboration across sites and regions. “It takes so long for new ideas to filter across the country. We’re trying to increase the speed of connection and communication,” Joe says.

She brings a strong generational sensibility to the site. “As a millennial, I expected to come out of training feeling that I was doing really meaningful things, connecting with patients and delivering great care. Instead, I felt that I was constantly being yelled at by doctors and case managers and nurses for not moving patients through quickly enough.” Where Joe does love speed, however, is in the sharing of ideas, and she pronounces herself a huge fan of health care technology, including electronic health records.

After only 11 months, the site has nearly 7,000 registered users. It is in a closed beta phase, which means that users are randomly selected by Ryan and site developers for interviews about usability and functionality; their input informs additions and improvements to the site. Medstro is very responsive and optimized for mobile; Ryan estimates that 30 percent of members access it from their smartphones.

Medstro has some high-powered partners, including Google, which is sponsoring its Wearables in Health Care Pilot Challenge; and the New England Journal of Medicine, which makes prominent authors available for open-forum discussions of their work. Recent discussions have taken their topics from articles on Genomic Medicine and the President’s new Precision Medicine initiative.

The shortcomings of existing social media sites for medical professionals drove the design of Medstro. “You have to reconsider what you consider ‘social,’” Joe says. “User-to-user communication is crucial.”

Frequent user Julian Seifter, MD, says, “Medstro has quickly and successfully opened up a forum to communicate with colleagues on an international scale. Through Medstro’s collaboration with the New England Journal, I benefited from posted discussions on topics in my area of interest and academic work. This directly led to new opportunities. I am greatly appreciative of the creativity and professionalism of the Medstro staff. I expect Medstro’s influence to grow exponentially.”

Jennifer-1990-webJennifer J. Salopek is founding editor of Wing of Zock. She can be reached at jsalopek@aamc.org, or follow her on Twitter @jsalopek.