Google Inc (GOOG), LinkedIn Corp (LNKD): Can Social Networks Unify the Fragmented EHR Market?

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The creation of a unified EHR (electronic health record) database has been a frustratingly elusive goal for the health care IT industry. Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) once attempted to tie the fragmented market together in 2008 with Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) Health, but gave up by 2011 after the service failed to achieve mass adoption.

There’s a new approach that a few companies have been experimenting with, however: using the social networking model popularized by Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD) to share patient records online.

Could social networking be the answer that the industry has been looking for, or will it fail just as Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) Health did?

Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)

Linking doctors and patient records together online
Doximity is a fast growing social network for physicians, with approximately 30% of U.S. doctors using the service. The site, which has 200,000 members and grew its user base by 20% year-on-year in 2012, resembles LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD) but is designed exclusively for physicians to share patient data in a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliant manner. Word of mouth is fueling the network’s growth, with 80% of new users coming from doctor-to-doctor referrals.

Doximity’s CEO, Jeff Tangney, is no stranger to medical technology. The first company he founded, Epocrates, went public in 2011 and was acquired by athenahealth, Inc (NASDAQ:ATHN) earlier this year for $293 million. Epocrates is now one of the most popular medical reference apps in America.

Although Doximity’s approach appears unique, LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD) already has 15.9 million (40% active) registered health care professionals worldwide. There are dozens of dedicated LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD) groups for medical professionals tailored to their specialties and interests. It is estimated that 18% of active health care professionals on LinkedIn have participated in these groups.

The only thing that LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD) lacks is a HIPAA-compliant way to share patient records across the network. If LinkedIn incorporates that feature, then smaller services like Doximity could suddenly be rendered obsolete.

When hashtags meet health care
Whereas Doximity is used for professional networking, Personiform‘s Project Medyear is a network for patients to actively connect with other patients and physicians. Project Medyear uses two key features of Twitter and Google Plus — hashtags and circles, respectively — to allow patients to actively share their own health records across the Internet.

Project Medyear users can hashtag their health problems or symptoms to find patients with similar problems. They can also share their full health records with strangers with the same disease. Project Medyear, which intends to launch early next year, uses Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) Plus’ Circles feature to create CareRings, which allows users to choose who they share the information with. The site also has photo sharing capabilities — a private place to share health-related photos that they wouldn’t otherwise share on Facebook. Physicians can also join the network, allowing patients to share their full medical records with them.

By taking Doximity’s business model one step further and extending it to patients, Project Medyear could become the first living, evolving social EHR system.

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