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A virtual lounge for doctors only

May 2009

Published in the May 2009 issue of Today’s Hospitalist

AS WEB SITES GO, DOCSBOARD.COM is decidedly no frills. The site, which bills itself as “Ultimate Discussion for Doctors,” has no flash features, ads or sponsors.

It also goes to a lot of trouble to keep non-physicians out. The site, which went live in 2004, now has more than 2,400 registered members. But only physicians can register, and even they need to provide the number of their medical license before they can enter the site. Some of the more than 30 discussion boards are specialty-specific “including one for hospitalists “while others explore general topics such as practice management and ethics.

The site’s founder and keeper is hospitalist Frederick Njuki, MD, director and one of three physicians with The Inpatient Practice Specialists, a group that serves three hospitals in the Houston suburbs. He says the strictly doctors-only format is very much by design.

“I participate in other online forums,” says Dr. Njuki, “and as many as 20% of registrants are there to post ads or because they’re just curious. That creates an atmosphere where the people who intend to use the forum can’t discuss freely, for fear of who might be reading.”

Once members register, he adds, only he and a few long-time users who act as forum moderators know the identities of those posting. Doctors “including “Daffy Duck” and “WarriorDoc” “take advantage of that anonymity to present quirky or humorous personas.

But their discussions are anything but frivolous. Dr. Njuki, a long-time technophile, originally started the site to hear other physicians’ experiences with EMRs and PDAs. While technology discussion boards at that time freely shared information, he points out, those populated by physicians did not.

The discussions on docsboard.com now go beyond technology, with members debating how to proceed, for instance, against administrators who want to force one hospitalist group out and hire those same physicians as employees.

Dr. Njuki, who posts as “bigdoc” and spends about seven hours a week on the site, has had offers from pharmaceutical companies to buy the online board. One former member “who tried to talk Dr. Njuki into making docsboard.com more commercial “went on to found Sermo, an online community that’s free to physicians but charges non-physician “clients” access fees. But Dr. Njuki says he’s not interested in a more open model.

“The good, old-fashioned physicians’ lounge has more or less disappeared because people are so busy,” he says. “This gives us a virtual forum to sit down together.”