U.S. Physicians’ Group Joins New Online Forum
The American Medical Association on Wednesday plans to announce an agreement to partner with Sermo, a startup company that encourages physicians to share information on a Web site and charges investment companies to view the information, which "could serve as tip-offs to drug side effects and other market-moving medical trends," AP/Long Island Newsday reports.
According to AP/Newsday, AMA, which has 250,000 members, hopes that the two-year agreement will "open a new line of communication, allowing members to quickly share everything from advice about treating an individual patient's unique symptoms to opinions on whether regulators should approve an experimental drug."
Physicians can join the Web site at no cost after they provide medical license numbers and other personal information, which Sermo verifies against records databases.
Physicians post information on the Web site anonymously and do not have to indicate any financial ties with pharmaceutical or medical device companies. In addition, physicians rank the credibility of information posted on the Web site, and Sermo in some cases sends $20 checks to physicians who post information that receives high ranks.
According to Sermo, about 15,000 physicians have joined since the Web site launched in September 2006. Sermo said that 10 to 20 investment companies pay between $100,000 and $500,000 annually to subscribe to the Web site. Pharmaceutical and medical device companies cannot subscribe to the Web site, Sermo said.
Cecil Wilson, chair of the AMA board, said, "From AMA's perspective, this gives us access to the largest online physician community and lets us connect our members with that."
Some physicians are "skeptical the nine-month-old service can advance medical safety," and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America "worries the service could spread as much rumor as fact," AP/Newsday reports.
William Maisel, a cardiologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said, "Incomplete, cryptic descriptions of drug adverse events or device malfunctions are not particularly useful in determining whether a true problem exists. Without knowing the event rate ... it is difficult to separate a true problem from an unexpected event."
Alan Goldhammer of PhRMA added that the Web site could "short-circuit" clinical trials and reviews by pharmaceutical companies and FDA (Jewell, AP/Long Island Newsday, 5/30).
WorldVistA -- a software program based on VistA, the electronic health record system used by the Department of Veterans Affairs -- can improve care, reduce medical errors and reduce costs and is "perhaps the greatest success story for government-developed information technology since the Internet itself," Wired deputy editor Thomas Goetz writes in a New York Times opinion piece.
According to Goetz, WorldVistA, "an open-source system that's low-cost, easy to use and readily available," might "be the key to the health care system we ought to have already."
In 10 years, VistA has helped VA "improve nearly every benchmark of quality in health care," and WorldVistA, which has received approval from the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology, "is ready for broad adoption," Goetz writes.
WorldVistA, "thanks to its public-domain origins, costs about one-tenth of what a proprietary system does," and "it's constantly improving," he adds. Goetz writes, "WorldVistA's big promise is that it can become the nationwide standard for electronic medical records, the backbone of a national network of health care" (Goetz, New York Times, 5/30).