Sermo: It Takes a Village to Raise a Doctor

Daniel Palastrant, CEO of, has come to Bristol-Myers Squibb to speak at the quarterly OMNI meeting. This meeting is targeted to the individual Brand Teams and intends to bring innovative ideas into the company. Daniel came to talk about Sermo and Online Physician Communities – Salvation or Mirage?

Direct from their web site, Sermo is “a practicing community of physicians who exchange clinical insights, observations, and review cases in real time — all the time.” Their objective, from my perspective, seems to be to connect doctors to each other, doctors to medical information, and doctors to medical services, all in one place.

Medicine is a cottage industry. Accessibility to see doctors is decreasing – 18% of doctors are no-see, and this is increasing. This is due to lots of reasons – the trend is away from in-patient towards out-patient, the introduction of hospitalists, the end of society / academic / association dominance, and script writers staying at the office to make ends meet instead of going to conferences. Key opinion leaders are becoming more polarized from practicing physicians, the number of pharmaceutical approvals is dropping, and the emergence of consumerism in the pharmaceutical industry are accelerating the number of no-see doctors as well.

Detailing is becoming more and more expensive. It costs roughly between $250 and $450 to detail a physician, and when you start including some of the secondary costs, it can reach up to between $600 to $2000 per visit. E-detailing costs between $100 to $200 on average, but you will run into recruitment problems. Community based e-detailing is estimated to cost between $35 and $65. And since you are “fishing where the fish are,” there is no recruitment costs. Doctors are already there. Enter Sermo.

The popularity of online communities have historically arced. They reach a certain point, and the number of attendees, active users, and advertisers will start to drop off. Sermo needs to find a way to make sure their community doesn’t arc like the others. New media needs new rules. The way they plan to attack this is to make sure there is as much efficiency (or harmony, as they call it) within the community. Ebay is a good example of this – there are buyers, and sellers, and the transaction is not over until everyone is happy.

Sermo plans to focus on the needs of the doctors on a vocational level. They will offer a virtual “water cooler” for the cottage industry – a place for doctors to share news, strange and insightful cases, and the opportunity for discussion amongst themselves. And they will collect and offer hard empirical data about what other doctors think about all of these.

Within Sermo’s postings, they provide Hot Spots that focus on Learnings and Earnings. These are small little bubbles that will appear throughout the Sermo interface when there is an additional content the doctor may be interested in (about a particular drug, for example).

Another feature within Sermo is called AlphaMD. This is a way to collect real time market research from doctors within the community. Data will be collected within each article. Doctors can be targeted based on their surfing habits or their profile information. This research will cost 1/10 the usual amount for this kind of information, and reach 4 times the usual target audience.

Sermo also plans on growing its features, again to prevent the value of its community from arcing. Some of the upcoming features are: DrugCards, which will be like a real-time updated Physicians Desk Reference; eDetailing, which is a frame that doctors can schedule detailing, and will integrate with your in-house detailing application; and RepSchedule, which will be a form doctors can schedule a visit from a sales rep, and will integrate with your in-house CRM.

Sermo is working with the FDA and internal regulatory departments to connect doctors to hospitals, other healthcare professionals, and pharmaceutical companies, in ways that make sense for everyone.

This was a great presentation. The exciting part is that this opens up new doors for our sales and marketing teams. Thanks to Daniel for coming to speak with us, and to Bruce Levin for putting this together.

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