Stumped by a patient’s symptoms? Looking for a second opinion on a diagnosis? Several online social networks are catering to the unique needs of physicians via electronic communication to discuss patient cases, rare diseases, and more. Doctors can tap into the collective knowledge of physicians online (“crowdsourcing”), as well as share their own expertise in these highlighted digital platforms.

Founded in 2005 in the United States, SERMO is a social network of nearly 350,000 verified licensed physicians that was also launched in the United Kingdom in 2015. For physicians who are looking to crowdsource medical information, SERMO allows users to post patient cases, including images, and create polls with potential diagnoses. In order to ensure that members of SERMO are licensed physicians, members undergo a triple-verification process that includes confirmation of their social security number via IDology Identify Verification, the leading identity and fraud prevention real time verification system used by financial services, healthcare, and insurance industries. A member’s medical credentials are also verified according to the AMA Physician Masterfile and steps are taken to prevent duplicate or fraudulent accounts via the Relevant ID verification system. However, anonymity is permitted on SERMO to encourage open dialogue without fear of repercussions.

Particularly for rare conditions, insights from specialists that a doctor may otherwise not have access to can be extremely valuable and even save a patient’s life. A SERMO member, a primary care physician, was treating a 14-year-old boy with persistent cough but normal test results; the patient coughed up a “branch-like” mass, which was submitted to the PCP, and posted on SERMO with a list of possible conditions. A cardiologist correctly recognized the mass as a symptom of the rare respiratory condition Fontan-Associated Plastic Bronchitis linked to previous heart surgeries. A pediatrician with pulmonary and respiratory expertise agreed, as did a physician who recently had a patient die from this condition before it could be correctly diagnosed. The PCP immediately referred the patient to a cardiologist and the teenager was treated successfully.1

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