Doc community stalks Influenza online

By Molly Merrill
12:48 PM

Sermo, Inc., an online physician community, is investigating the ability of 100,000 physicians to track and potentially prevent infectious diseases.

Participating physicians will use technology from Sermo called Sermo FluMonitor to collect and aggregate clinical observations across the country.

Cambridge, Mass.-based Sermo provides U.S. licensed physicians with a free memberships to its community. Adam Sharp, an emergency physician and chief medical officer of Sermo, says its membership is currently more than 100,000.

The Sermo FluMonitor will allow physicians to report geographically-based clinical observations in real time. 

“This endeavor has the potential to be an extremely useful resource in tracking disease and saving lives,” says Sharp. “Sermo’s unique online community already brings physicians together to report bedside data and exchange clinical insights. Until now, this type of tracking mechanism was simply not possible.”

Physicians can monetize their Sermo experience by providing their expertise as a resource for financial services firms, healthcare institutions and government agencies.

The 120 physicians who are participating in the FluMonitor tracking will be paid a nominal fee for their participation, says Sharp.

Sermo officials say the FluMonitor’s instantaneous exchange of information could have broad implications, such as better preparedness in staffing and supply requirements, and earlier treatment. It could also inform clinical decision-making based on local disease prevalence, avoiding unnecessary and expensive testing, they said.

Steve Gordon, MD, a family practitioner in Sioux City, Iowa, joined the Sermo FluMonitor program a couple months ago.  He has yet to report a case for this year, although he expects that cases will increase in the coming months.

“ Knowing how this yearly epidemic progresses is very important knowledge,” Gordon says. “I wanted to get in with the FluMonitor because I knew it wouldn’t cost me much energy and time and it is important public health knowledge.”

In the event that a patient comes in experiencing flu-like symptoms Gordon says that after performing a physical exam he would take a Q-tip sample from the patient’s nose. If it’s positively identified as the flu then he could just go to the Sermo site and click on the FluMonitor screen and enter the data required. He says this would take approximately 15-20 seconds.

Patient information that would be entered into the FluMonitor would be patient age, gender, whether they were bedside tested or vaccinated, and their symptoms says Sharp.

“ I carry my notebook computer with me about 90 percent of my workday and we have wireless access to the Internet,” says Gordon.  He added that the convenience of entering the data “absolutely makes it easier” for him and his workflow.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently distributes information 10-14 days after laboratory-confirmed diagnoses.

“Two days is too late with Influenza because we’re working with, roughly, a 40-hour window of opportunity,” said Gary Munk, director of clinical virology at Hackensack University Medical Center. “If you can catch it in under that, you can interfere with the virus by offering prevention methods to minimize disease spread in the area. We could not only treat influenza, but potentially prevent it.”

“We are not trying to replace the CDC but want to augment it, separate the signals from the noise so to speak,” says Sharp. “We are taking information from the community and are overlaying it with what the CDC does to get ahead of the curve.”

Sermo will share the data with anyone that is interested, Sharp says. “We are not going to profit from this data. We’ll share it with any health agency that thinks it will be useful.”

Sermo officials said in the future, the technology would be used to track various diseases, including Tuberculosis, Staphylococcus, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.