We recently had a chance to talk with Jeff Tangney, who founded Doximity at the beginning of this year. Doximity is an iPhone app and web service for physician communication and practice-related information lookup. Be sure to check out the iPhone app review published yesterday on this site.

Why did you create Doximity ?

Our goal was to help physicians communicate in this increasingly byzantine economic climate. Doctors spend on average 40 minutes every day communicating, or trying to communicate, with other physicians. Currently, that means using the phone to call their office, have the medical assistant interrupt the other physician or leave a message. Most places still use a fax to exchange information, even in facilities with electronic health records.

Aren’t there other places where physicians can communicate ?

Physicans are shying away from Facebook because of its public nature. The presence of patients can make privacy difficult. LinkedIn has not been seen much adoption by physicians – only 2% of US physicians are on LinkedIn. It seems to be better suited for tech and marketing types and a great tool for recruiters. Physician communication was our focus . Communication in medicine happens in real-time. Often it has to happen while the patient is waiting. That is why the phone is critical. The app needs to be available at all times.

When did you start Doximity ?

I left Epocrates in December 2009. I took a month off, travelled. My wife joked that I needed to get out of the house. By January, I had the idea for Doximity. Our founding team included some folks from Epocrates. We worked on it for six months and eventually tested at it two pilot sites in Boston. We recently showed the app at the annual AAFP [ American Academy of Family Physicians] meeting where we had great feedback. We soft-launched the app in the App store without any press just over a week ago and have already registered 1000 physicians.

How do you plan to navigate between making the app more viral and being respectful of physicians ?

While it true that the service is more useful the more physicians are using it, we are a professional communication company and are respectful of this issue. Physicians do not necessarily want to repeatedly be asked to invite colleagues. But, we might say “here are your colleagues that are going to the conference”. We also know that most communication is between close circles – health care is very local. So we don’t necessarily need to reach across the nation. Even without the network, the app still provides value in accessing databases of hospitals & facilities. And docs can always turn off Doc Text if they do not want to receive messages.

We authenticate each of our members to prevent against pharma rep solicitations, patient queries, and general spam.  This is done by successfully answering challenge questions like a credit questionnaire, having a validated medical email account, like mayoclinic.org, or by sending us a copy of your license.  We’ve had a number of complaints about the latter method (definitely “anti-viral”!), but we think it necessary to keep the service clean and uncluttered.

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Where does the information in Doximity come from ?

We took a lot of time to integrate information from multiple databases including physician NPI and Medicare databases. A total of 12 databases so far. We also are including “deep dial” directories for hospitals. This numbers are often difficult to find, such as the phone number for radiology at a nearby hospital.

Plans for Android ?

We plan on launching on Android within a year.

Did you consider integrating electronic prescribing ?

Sending prescriptions to pharmacies is the easy part. We tried this at Epocrates. The difficult part is integrating physicians patient lists. Requiring entry the name and identifying information of the patient every time is cumbersome for the user.

How about integration with electronic health records ?

We have had substantive discussions with a few EHR vendors. One idea would be to expose some APIs so that information can be sent into Doximity from EHRs. Another would be a insert a link-out to a specific URL in the message to a web based EHR that would still require the physician to authenticate but then immediately show the requested information. However, our goal is not to supplant EHRs. This is why we limit our messages to 250 characters. The idea is to allow physicians to exchange short, timely messages, for example a gastroenterologist letting the primary care physician know that endoscopy on their patient just showed a tumor. We want to be a “glue” for some of the missing parts of EHRs.
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How will Doximity generate revenue ?

There are a few ways we are looking at right now. The base product will remain free but we plan on providing a premium version to hospitals with enhanced communication and other features. This type of model worked well for us at Epocrates. Signing up a hospital will also quickly increase our physician user base. Another potentially lucrative option is physician surveys. We would never sell our subscriber list. However, like we did at Epocrates, we could invite our member physicians to participate in ccasional surveys for honoraria. Since we have such detailed information on physicians’ practices, targeted information like this tends to be very valuable. Physicians can always opt out, if they are not interested. Lastly, we could mediate physician recruiting. Currently, most recruiters cannot target their offers very specifically. About 8% of physicians change jobs every year and, on our platform, they have a much higher chance of finding a job that matches their interest. Again, we would not share out contacts but post the messages ourselves. This type of disintermediation has been a major source of revenue for LinkedIn.

Are you planning on raising money ?

We are fortunate that we have been able to largely fund this on our own thus far. We have one venture capital firm involved thus far, the VCs from InterWest Partners, who also funded Epocrates. However, at our current burn-rate, we we can go a long way before needing to raise any money.

Thanks for Jeff Tangney for taking the time to speak with iMedicalApps. We are excited about the launch of Doximity and look forward to seeing its growth in coming years.