As a young naturopathic doctor, Andrew Brandeis (’08) found himself searching for the best information for his patients, often calling, texting and emailing his peers from the examination room. He knew that their experience could help him treat his patients, but there was no good way to find the right information quickly.
That frustration led him to create SharePractice, an iPhone app for doctors to share treatment information for specific diagnoses. It’s become a growing tool used by more than 15,000 health care providers. SharePractice has raised $1.3 million from Silicon Valley tech investors, based on the idea that doctors can do more when they share their expertise freely.
“Doctors right now have an antiquated way of transferring knowledge,” Dr. Brandeis told Venturebeat, a tech news site. “I realized that there was no structured way for us to share our experiences. When you are busy seeing patients, you don’t have time to sort through a ton of information. I want to collect doctors’ brains and experience in one place where it can spread quickly.”
SharePractice ranks treatments for more than 2,000 diagnoses, including both botanical supplements and pharmaceuticals. Doctors can vote treatments up or down, add new treatments and leave comments about their experiences. SharePractice staff overseen by a medical director cleans up irregularities (such as name misspellings) and incorporates information from PubMed and other medical research databases. The app has been called “Yelp for medicine.”
An automated ranking system might seem like an odd match for naturopathic medicine, which emphasizes the unique nature of every patient. Dr. Brandeis says the app doesn’t replace the need for personal attention from a doctor — it gives doctors a place to look once they’ve reached a diagnosis. That’s why SharePractice is available to medical practitioners and not to patients. It’s available for NDs, medical doctors (MDs) and other licensed health care providers.
As a graduate of Bastyr University’s Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine program, Dr. Brandeis says he learned from veteran professors who were also skillful practitioners. When he joined Care Practice, a clinic in San Francisco, he wanted to continue discussing cases with them. But that quickly became impractical.
“You can’t run individual cases by your mentors every day, because every mentor has hundreds of students they have mentored,” he says.
SharePractice became a way for mentors to share their knowledge with younger practitioners. Dr. Brandeis began fleshing out the idea with connections in the Bay Area tech world and with MDs he knew through his integrative practice. When it came time to pitch investors, his bedside-manner training became useful, he says.
“Being a doctor and raising a successful practice gave me a lot of credibility,” he says of meeting investors. “The education I got at Bastyr about counseling was really important, too. We learned how to talk to people and pay attention and engage people, and that was really helpful.”
SharePractice is free to use, and the company hopes to eventually become profitable by selling data to supplement companies that can use detailed (but privacy-protected) data on how doctors actually use health products, Dr. Brandeis says. The trends the app reveals could also help drive medical research.
While SharePractice is meant to appeal to veteran practitioners, one of Dr. Brandeis’ own mentors was skeptical when he first learned about it. Eric Yarnell, ND (’96), a professor in Bastyr’s Department of Botanical Medicine, says he was concerned that MDs would vote up pharmaceutical drugs and vote down herbal supplements without trying them.
“Frankly, that hasn’t happened,” says Dr. Yarnell, who became a user of SharePractice and a member of its advisory board.
Instead, SharePractice has brought MDs and NDs into conversation, leading them past ideological differences and into the specifics of helping patients, where they find they have much in common.
Dr. Brandeis tells the story of an emergency room doctor who looked to the app for advice for a patient with migraines. The two most common drug treatments hadn’t worked, and the third was a narcotic that was dangerous for a patient with a history of opiate abuse. On SharePractice, he found an intravenous (IV) treatment highly rated by NDs and decided to try it.
“That kind of story happens every day,” Dr. Brandeis says.
Vani Gandhi, MD, an HIV specialist in New York’s Mount Sinai Health System, is another doctor who has learned from NDs on SharePractice. She recently gave a lateral-sclerosis patient a supplement combination suggested by John Hibbs, ND (’83), a professor in Bastyr’s School of Naturopathic Medicine.
“It’s very interesting to see the interaction between the MDs, NDs, nurses and students,” Dr. Gandhi says. “It’s very healthy, I think. It promotes good discussion. And it’s good for patients.”
Dr. Gandhi also found the app helpful for teaching her students at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine. She also uses it to spread the word about treatments she has found effective, such as turmeric for arthritis and chronic pain in runners.
The SharePractice team — 10 employees and about seven medical-student interns — is continually fine-tuning its product as it learns from users. After launching as an iPhone-only app in November 2013, it plans to introduce a web version available on any computer or web phone in early 2015. It is also fine-tuning privileges for medical students (MD and ND), who have access to view but not create entries on the app.
The ability to evolve quickly is a key feature of software compared to traditional streams of medical knowledge. SharePractice draws information from medical research databases to include the value of evidence-based medicine. But it also recognizes that peer-reviewed study results are not available for many dilemmas that doctors face, Dr. Brandeis says.
The site can also help correct conventional wisdom that is inaccurate, Dr. Yarnell says. As a urology specialist, he has seen MDs rely on antibiotics to treat pelvic pain, even though the supporting evidence is weak, he says. SharePractice might convince them to reconsider.
“I think this will ultimately prove to be a valuable piece of the future of medicine,” he says.
SharePractice is not the only company vying to become a crowdsourcing hub for doctors. And very few tech startups become the next big thing. But SharePractice has the potential to influence every doctor who uses it by showing them that other professionals have valuable information for helping patients.
Dr. Brandeis told the story of the emergency room doctor when he met with a California state senator to talk about the need for stronger naturopathic-medicine legislation. For NDs to prove their value in health care, it’s essential to share their knowledge, he says.
“Some NDs are afraid of naturopathic treatments being stolen,” he says. “That’s absurd. If you don’t share what you know, no one cares about you. If we’re fighting an uphill battle, this knowledge-sharing is exactly what we need.”
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