David Williams: This is David Williams, co founder of MedPharma Partners and author of the Health Business Blog. I spoke recently with Dr. Jason Bhan, co founder of Ozmosis, a physician only social networking site whose motto is “Diffusing knowledge across the Internet.” We spoke about how physicians are using Ozmosis, differences between Ozmosis and other sites like Sermo, and the company’s somewhat unusual business model.
Jason, thanks for joining me today.
Dr. Jason Bhan: I appreciate the opportunity, David.
David: Jason, what is Ozmosis?
Dr. Bhan: Let me give you a little bit of history about Ozmosis and where it came from. It is borne from experience, from my experience and those of my colleagues. We started to realize how difficult it was becoming to keep up with the increasing amounts of information that are available to us as well as the changes that are going on in medicine and health care on a day to day basis. PubMed is indexing thousands of new articles a day, guidelines and best practices are constantly in flux and we’re being pulled between patient care and managed care, which is increasing demands on our time. As physicians, we are just overwhelmed.
We got together and wanted to create a set of tools that will allow us to work together, to manage information, to share ideas, and to collaborate while tackling tough issues. In essence, we wanted to create an environment in which we really learn best, which is from each other. This is, in fact, how we’re trained as physicians. It’s the interactivity of the “See one, do one, teach one” philosophy that we lose fairly rapidly as we move from residency into reality.
David: Jason, there are a number of new physician only social networking sites. What makes Ozmosis different?
Dr. Bhan: Ozmosis has a number of unique qualities. First and foremost is trust. When we’re dealing with patients and health issues, it is absolutely critical that we trust the information and the source of the information before we use it on our patients. So, what we did was go about engendering trust in a number of different ways.
Firstly, we verify the identity of each and every member before they’re permitted access to the site. This is done through a proprietary solution we’ve developed; it’s rigorous and every member goes through it. So, every member who’s been through it knows that every member before and after them is going to get through it or has been through it. There’s a level of confidence that our members have that they’re operating in a community of their peers.
Secondly, Ozmosis is not an anonymous community. Members can very quickly recognize and interact with their colleagues anywhere on the site and rely on the information that’s being obtained. It’s a combination of knowing who you’re getting your information from and what your relationship is to that information source.
The other differentiator from a number of other sites is what we call our knowledge exchange. Our knowledge exchange takes the individual insights of physicians and transforms them into trusted knowledge nuggets for our members. We provide physicians a place where they can turn for trusted, reliable clinical practice management and health policy information.
We’ve done this by building from the ground up a solution that fits the physician rather than trying to wedge a physician into a box. By using simple tools to bookmark, post content –whether it’s journal abstracts, medical cases, videos, podcasts, blog entries, anything from anywhere on the Web–, the community then collectively evaluates it, discusses it, and rates it, and to the benefit of everybody. This allows the best and most timely information to just bubble up to the top.
David: Your physician users are all identified, they’re not anonymous. I understand why that’s useful in promoting trust, but I wonder if there are drawbacks to that? For example, I’m wondering if more junior physicians tend to defer to their elders even when they have different views.
Dr. Bhan: There’s always controversy in medicine, and generally, physicians aren’t afraid to stand up for what they believe in, especially if there’s evidence to back it up. In fact, when there’s evidence to the contrary, physicians are the first to admit that they may be wrong, especially when it involves patient care.
Initially, there were some occasional hesitations among physicians to post certain types of cases or questions. It had to do more with the concern that the specifics of the case were such that the individual that they were presenting could potentially be identified by associating the details of the case with the physician’s name. So, based on the user feedback, we actually do allow some cases and questions to be submitted anonymously if they desire. We found it’s a pretty rare situation; it’s not a commonly used tool.
David: What kinds of issues are discussed? Could you describe a case example, maybe describe how the dialog is different than it would be in the physical world?
Dr. Bhan: Yes, absolutely. There are a number of different examples; we see some great conversations. I’ll give you one from a basic clinical pharmacology example, which was a discussion that had to do with comparing the efficacy of Sudafed versus phenylephrine. Amazingly, this is just something that’s written into our heads as physicians and what we found was that very few people actually knew the evidence surrounding it.
We will just recommend phenylephrine or Sudafed, whichever the patient prefers to use for the symptoms that they were having. What ended up happening on the site was a relatively in depth literature review and experiential accounts that compared the two. What we found was that literature and experience sort of meshed together and one tended to be better than the other, both by evidence and experience.
We’ve seen some excellent clinical cases from managing simple trauma in the office setting, where a physician might have had to make a number of phone calls or page a number of other physicians after hours to try and answer something. By posting it on Ozmosis, they got the answer in a more timely manner and a broader variety of answers as well and options.
Then there are some incredibly complex patient cases that are presented. Some that had to do with patients in hospital and what kind of medications they should be on for extremely complex cardiac patients. These are the kinds of patients and cases that you really don’t see in the textbooks, so it takes either an incredibly experienced physician and a number of others that they’re working with or a community to come up with the right answers.
David: How long has Ozmosis been around and how big is the site in term of the number of users or whatever metric it is that you track?
Dr. Bhan: We incorporated a couple of years ago in 2006. We launched our alpha version of the platform in February of 2007 and we did that with a small group of physicians who we felt were going to be good with feedback and basically grew the site from there with their input, making sure that we took into account the wants and needs of our community.
As far as the usership of the site we’re seeing extremely high activity levels and our membership is growing very well. We’re continuing to focus on building the community based on quality. Our members understand that these are new ways to communicate and interact and that ultimately they’ll lead to improved patient care.
We are receiving a significant amount of interest for invitations from physicians across the country and when we open up Ozmosis to all U.S. licensed physicians later this summer we are expecting a really excellent growth rate.
David: As physicians get used to social media how do you think their behavior will evolve? Will physicians visit just one site or do you think they’ll use Sermo, usenet groups and other sites? How do you think about that as a physician and as an entrepreneur?
Dr. Bhan: Ozmosis is unique. There are other sites that provide a completely different experience than Ozmosis and other opportunities for physicians that Ozmosis doesn’t provide so there’s no reason to necessarily believe that this space will be different from any other in social media where multiple sites or multiple platforms exist, that individuals, including physicians, will bounce between depending on their needs.
David: Tell me about your business model.
Dr. Bhan: At Ozmosis we are absolutely focused directly on benefiting the physician to improve patient care. In the same way that our physicians use Ozmosis for knowledge discovery they also use it for product discovery.
We provide opt in areas of the site that allow physicians to learn about new products and services from other physicians. Again this is an example of physicians learning from each other.
A client would provide content, product literature, multimedia content. All that is displayed in a well identified and branded opt in area and the real value is in the peer-to-peer discussion that occurs around the product.
As a physician it’s more useful to learn about how my colleagues are using a product in day-to-day use and in their practice as opposed to from a sales rep. I’ll give you an example. One of our clients, PocketMed has a mobile charge capture solution and rather than relying entirely on a large sales force, they use the Ozmosis product discovery area to house discussions on tips, tricks, feedback and testimonials. Other physicians that want to learn more about the product have the opportunity to go and quickly get a sense of how other physicians are using it and if it’s the right one for them.
David: Within those sponsored areas does a sponsoring company have a rep who’s a physician or do they just put the materials out there for the users to discuss?
Dr. Bhan: It depends; there are obviously companies that have physicians in their ranks. We do ask, and it’s in our user terms that the physicians who are associated with companies or other entities on the site actually disclose that to the rest of the community.
David: Do you think your business model will change over time or is it robust and sustainable the way it is now?
Dr. Bhan: Yes, I absolutely believe it’s robust and sustainable. I think every business has the opportunity to change over time so I won’t put it past us to take another look at it in the future.
David: You recently announced a relationship with The Doctors Channel. Can you describe that please?
Dr. Bhan: Yes, absolutely. You know one of the things that we didn’t anticipate from our physicians was this interest in seeing video based content, so we went out and looked for a good partner to provide this for us and found The Doctors Channel. They have an incredibly creative approach to video and informational videos so we integrate their original video content into Ozmosis and general physician-only discussions that take place on our site.
It’s been fascinating, in fact. Some of our physicians have enjoyed the videos so much that they want to take part in them and we’ll actually be seeing some of our users be featured in some of The Doctors Channel videos fairly shortly.
David: As you prepare to open the site to other users, do you expect to include physicians outside the U.S. or is it meant to be domestic only?
Dr. Bhan: Yes, absolutely. Physician-first and patient care improvement is our goal, so I don’t see any particular reason to not include the global health care community in Ozmosis. For now it’s just a matter of being able to maintain that trust level that comes with making sure that physicians are in fact physicians when they become members, so that’s the hurdle that we’ll cross when needed.
David: What do you see as your biggest challenge moving forward? What are the things that keep you up at night?
Dr. Bhan: The largest challenge that we’ve got ahead of us is constantly providing value to our physicians. Adapting, changing to their wants and needs, especially as the community grows. It’s been fairly simple to iterate and make decisions and change when the community’s been a controlled size. As we continue to expand I’m looking forward to finding out who the most excited members are and listening to their activity level and feedback as we grow and just keeping that vibrant community going and making sure that our members are getting the most they can from what we offer.
David: I’ve been speaking today with Dr. Jason Bhan, founder of Ozmosis, a social networking site for physicians. Jason thanks for your time today.
Dr. Bhan: I appreciate the opportunity very much David, thanks.