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The Journal of the American Medical Association has reported that one in nine Americans now have chronic kidney disease, and that figure is believed to be growing. At the same time many publications (among them, Kidney News) are tracking a drop in the number of nephrologists entering the field, and others have documented the strain on those already practicing as dialysis resources are stretched thin.

As awareness of kidney disease within the general population increases, so will nephrologists’ need for a safe, efficient, and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)–compliant system for securely managing incoming referrals and discussing patient information with a treatment team. Although doctors themselves are often early adopters of information technology—81 percent now own a smartphone, for example—medicine as a whole has been slow to catch up. Email and Short Message Service (SMS), for instance, are not considered HIPAA secure, a point that the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations emphasized in November 2011 when it issued a ban on texting. This, of course, leaves physicians reliant on telephones, pagers, and faxes to communicate patient information.

Doximity was founded to address what we see as one of the next big challenges in health care—facilitating communication among physicians. Our company has been described as a kind of LinkedIn for doctors, and with nearly 30,000 physicians signed up, we’re already the largest medical professional network in the country. Enabling doctors to find and make connections in their practices and with alumni is valuable in itself, but what may be even more essential to our specific community is a private and HIPAA-secure method of exchanging information. We assign dual passwords to each user so each message is encrypted end to end. And because Doximity has been optimized for both smartphones and tablets, messages can be sent, and referrals made, from the operating room—or far from the nearest hospital—as easily as from a computer.

Equally integral to safe communication is real-name interaction. At Doximity, we verify each of our users. We believe that ensuring every member’s identity creates a framework of trust, expertise, and professionalism that reflects the effective physician interaction in the real world. The difference, of course, is that these communications are increasingly happening as ongoing written discussions across thousands of miles.

In many ways, our newest feature, iRounds, grew out of these changes. Not unlike social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google, iRounds allows users to tap into larger communities to discuss patient cases, new research, emerging medical technologies, and more.

“Doximity offers an easy way to keep up to date on the latest news, best blog posts, and journal articles from our specialty,” said Joshua Schwimmer, MD, a nephrologist at Lenox Hill Hospital and The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “For example, a review article on focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) in the New England Journal of Medicine was the basis for a discussion among multiple specialties about the presentation of FSGS, the differences between FSGS and diabetic nephropathy, and the indications for renal biopsy. The easy-access via smartphone and the Web, the user-friendly design, and the ready availability of physicians’ credentials makes it simple to collaborate and learn from your colleagues.”

Sara Reistad-Long is affiliated with Doximity.