Online platform serves doctors, patients
http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2006-04/12/content_565664.htm (Download PDF File)
Doctor Gong Xiaoming never expected that one day his personal obstetrics and gynecology website would become the most popular online communication platform for both gynecologists and patients. The website (china-obgyn.net) ranks as No 1 in the category of non-commercial Chinese websites on Baidu, a popular search engine.
Nowadays, the Internet represents a new era of communication between physicians. For the first time in history, fast, relatively free and open communication and collaboration are accessible to the masses beyond geographic boundaries. It also makes patients more active participants in their healthcare.
The practice of treatment on the Internet is still prohibited by law internationally. Doctors can only make recommendations and suggest patients consult their local physicians.
If doctor Gong hadn't started his website, he would have just been a common gynaecologist at Peking Union Medical College Hospital.
In 2000, two years after he worked in the hospital, the Chinese Internet industry was booming, which gave birth to a variety of websites.
"But I found there was not a single online platform for doctors to communicate. So I decided to start one," said Gong, who was one of the first people in China to really embrace the Internet as a great tool to provide and share information.
Starting with a few pages, growing to a forum, and then later gaining a free domain name, Gong finally had a prototype for his website, where he combined professional articles written by his colleagues, medical advice from his hospital and some materials copied from other websites.
The early visitors were only his colleagues of the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department. However, the novelty soon wore off and few people actually visited the website.
Gong said it was a disappointing time for him, but he did not give up.
Later, he worked hard to enrich the website's content and align it to major search engines.
Gradually the website had more visitors, the majority of whom were patients seeking medical information. Now the website is viewed daily by 2,500 to 10,000 people.
More visits to his website means more time spent maintaining and improving it.
Gong admitted that building the website has made him famous within his circle, but the greater joy for him is watching his website grow.
When Gong started his website he only wanted to provide a platform for gynaecologists to better communicate with each other, but he did not expect that many patients were crowding his website seeking information and advice before they sought medical treatment.
Gong still remembers a patient who visited him from the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region years ago. Though Gong was only a new doctor at his hospital at the time, she told him that he was the only one she trusted.
She visited doctor Gong's website, where she read an article written by him about uterine fibroma treatment. Inflicted by the disease for years, she finally found solace in what the article had to say.
"It is a common thing now for patients to search for medical information online before they visit a doctor," said doctor Gong.
The most frequently asked questions concern the treatment of a wide variety of gynaecological diseases, conception knowledge and points for attention during pregnancy. Almost every question is answered by online doctors.
"Doctor Han" was one of the most popular doctors on the website.
"He really loves to help people in need but nobody knows his full name or even the hospital he works for," said Gong.
An article on the treatment of cervical erosion and vaginitis posted by "Doctor Han" four years ago created the highest clicking record on the website. There are 88 pages of messages following the article and hundreds of women have received replies.
"I feel so much gratitude towards those doctors who are actively involved in the forum," said Gong.
Link with the world
As most Chinese doctors do not have their own clinics, answering patients' questions online certainly would not bring them further economic gain.
Recently Gong's website formed a partnership with obgyn.net, the largest website dedicated to Ob/Gyn in the world.
The establishment of an editorial board last month inviting comment from highly respected leaders in all areas of Ob/Gyn signified a big development for the website, from a personal website into a professional platform.
Some of the doctors on obgyn.com have over 60 per cent of their patients coming from online referrals, especially for difficult cases like endometriosis, infertility, high-risk pregnancy, according to Roberta Speyer, president of obgyn.net.
However, Speyer said although the doctors acquire patients from their online service, they are involved in the website because they love it.
She quoted a message from Dr Kelly Shanahan, an active participant in their Women's Health Forum, "I don't know why it is that I get so frustrated with my own practice but I get such a kick out of helping women I don't even know via the forum."
(China Daily 04/12/2006 page13)