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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Physical Networking in a Virtual World

It used to be that doctors socialized with each other.  This is no longer the case.  The practice of medicine and its economic realities have made it difficult for doctors in a community to get to know one another and become friends.  In the recent past, circa 1990's and before, one could go into the doctor's lounge and immediately find colleagues, engage them in debate or small talk, or even hold an impromptu journal club about someting innane written in the NEJM.  Specialists could put names to faces of their primaries, and vice-versa.  If a physician needed a quick consult or simply a pep talk, he could find it in the lounge. 

Until recently, the hospital itself served as the hub of all social activity amongst physicians.  The yearly hospital galas in those days were part prom for the doctors and their wives and part fundraiser for the hospital and its board.  Though these galas still exist, doctors can no longer afford the $500 per person ticket price for admission and few attend.  I have been to one or two of these myself--on someone else's dime--and I was amazed at how few doctors were in attendance.

Not so long ago, outside the hospital doctors would socialize with each other at the local country club or tennis club.  Their wives would become friends and so would their kids.  It was nice time; a time that I only glimpsed from the outside during my medical school days and that subsequently vanished while I was still in training.

No doubt due to abuses to the system during a bygone era, the pendulum has swung way over to the other side with PHARMA having eliminated the only remaining locally held social activities available to the community doctor; the drug dinner and the sponsored grand rounds.     

The demise of this important social network has had some profound implications for the business side of medicine, some for its betterment and some for its detriment.  I suppose that a strong social network prevented the development of Medicare until 1965 and I can almost see doctors in the lounge working each other up to a tizzy about the "red evil" that was coming in the form of socialized medicine.  On the other hand, the network probably served as a catalyst for doctors' acceptance of commerical payers, especially as their colleagues, one by one, signed onto the plans.  On a more personal note, it has become difficult, to say the least, for young doctors to meet other young doctors and establish new lines of referral and make friends.  Since networking goes hand-in-hand with business development and practice building, the absence of this network system makes it more challenging to grow a practice. On the flip side, with few in-roads available for networking, well thought out and skillfully excersised networking tactics can produce significant positive results.

Networking still exists and is as important as ever, but it is no longer conducted as much in the physical world as in the virtual one.  Your trick, as a solo doc, is to find a way to use the virtual network community to augment your own local, personal network group.  It can be done.  Just ask some of the people who have done it.

Thanks and good luck,

The IU.