Since it's launch in 1998, Doctors.net.uk has become the UK’s largest network of medical professionals. The organisation now has a membership comprising 90% of the UK's practising doctors, with one in five logging in every day. Twice during September, the website received record amounts of traffic, with 40,000 unique visitors during a single day.
In it's own words, the website, "... is available to UK-registered doctors in primary and secondary care. It is a secure service offering a professional e-mail facility, clinical and non-clinical forums, the very latest medical news and free accredited education allowing doctors to maintain Continuing Professional Development (CPD)."
This doctor community regularly makes a direct contribution to patient outcomes, with many examples of rare conditions being diagnosed and treated, thanks to doctors being able to share their knowledge and opinions. It’s become an indispensable resource across primary and secondary care, with 97% saying the site is their most trusted source of information.
The phenomenally high percentage of take up and the regularity of engagement makes Doctors.net.uk THE Social Network in which to reach GP’s and secondary care clinicians. Forget facebook and twitter; this is the place to be. Whether it's market research or spreading a message, there's no other place to be found online with the sheers numbers of active members, representing virtually the entire populace of doctors in the UK.
But it is a private network, so not a free for all, where service providers looking to exploit GP's new found powers in commissioning, can go around selling their wares. Instead, Doctors.net.uk offers option for Private and Public organisations to purchase access to their membership, whether to conduct market research or run communication and educational campaigns. It's not clear from the website exactly what this entails or if it's open for all companies, such as Social Marketing providers, but what is clear is the results. Doctors.net.uk offers extremely detailed and accurate metrics to demonstrate return on investment. Boehringer Ingelheim, for instance, engaged 27,000 doctors in a year-long campaign that was equivalent to having 45 sales representatives on the road for the same period of time.
The Third Sector has also taken advantage of this. Cancer Research UK appointed Doctors.net.uk to launch a three month campaign targeting general practitioners. This involved a dedicated Cancer Research UK microsite within Doctors.net.uk, providing GPs with authoritative evidence-based information to improve patient consultations and earlier diagnosis.
The Department of Health and NHS make extensive use of the opportunities for engagement that Doctors.net.uk has to offer. The NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement conducted a year long programme through the network, aimed at improving the quality and efficiency of high volume care. They reported great success, with 20,000 doctors assessing their clinical practices and 8.000 changing their working methods, all as a direct result of the campaign.
This engagement between GP's and the Government will be of increasing importance as NHS reforms take place. Doctors.net.uk have already started to react to the changes, with the launch of a commissioning microsite and joint research projects with influential think tank, the King’s Fund. This aims to help GP's with the new process, providing clear information and forums for discussion, help and advice. This comes after research conducted by Doctors.net.uk revealed that 83% of doctors don't feel equipped to implement the reforms. Hopefully, the microsite will go some way to addressing that.
As mentioned above, I'm not clear whether companies such as ours, who offer Social Marketing services, can use Doctors.net.uk to target those GP's looking to commission what we offer. If this isn't already a possibility, I would hope that with their growing responsibility for commissioning, it soon will be. Throwing open the doors may well be too much, potentially diluting the prime purpose of Doctors.net.uk and putting off GP's, but if it's controlled, it should be mutually beneficial to both provider and GP.