There’s never been a time when doctors weren’t seeking ways to learn and get opinions from one another — from the world’s oldest surgical text, the 5,000-year-old Edwin Smith Papyrus of Ancient Egypt, to modern-day, informal “curbside consultations”.

As one study found: “[P]hysicians who consult with respected colleagues are using those conversations to identify and make use of the best medical evidence, filtered through a colleague’s years of experience and knowledge of how medicine is practiced in that area. This ‘just in time’ information bridges global and local knowledge and is provided by colleagues with whom they share professional and personal bonds.

But the venues in which those conversations are taking place is rapidly evolving. Today, doctors are supplementing 20th-century methods of sharing information — like conferences, conventions, consultations and medical journals — with new app- and online-based vehicles. The “curbside” has gone virtual.

Here are a few of the new ways physicians are connecting:

  • WhatsApp — Hugely popular outside the United States, the Netherlands Patient and Consumer Federation (NPCF) reports that Dutch physicians use this app to exchange information and photos about cases. One neurologist claimed to “have saved lives in an emergency by discussing patient information via WhatsApp,” but admitted “there are certainly privacy concerns.”
  • athenaText — From the owners of Epocrates comes this HIPAA-compliant physician texting app.
  • TigerText — This app touts its HIPAA compliance but markets itself to business professionals outside the healthcare industry as well.
  • Figure 1 — Tagging itself as “Instagram for doctors,” hundreds of thousands of healthcare professionals use this image-sharing service. But, they say, “no selfies.”

While the phenomenon of these apps raises a variety of questions related to compliance, privacy, security and storage, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that healthcare professionals are wishing to use popular tools. Direct, asynchronous communication (as TigerText puts it) can be of enormous benefit to healthcare teams. In fact, various “e-medicine” and physician-only offerings have attempted to gain market share for a decade now with limited success. Niche tools have an uphill battle because users want to centralize communications. It’s simply easier to use one platform for all of your conversations, whether personal or business. But — as politicians and professionals often discover to their chagrin — such efficiency is not always possible.

Will we see professional conferences and peer-reviewed journals become a thing of the past? That’s doubtful. But we will see more developers — and mainstream apps and networks — join the fray to answer this need for healthcare professionals to be able to have collaborations on the go. The utility is obvious, and tools like these can save patients’ lives if they can be developed in ways to connect the right people fast enough.