Twitter seems to have legitimized the value behind aggregating real-time conversations from a large group of participants. Ironically though, even as twitter continues to find it’s own business model, startups like TruthOnCall are applying the same fundamental concept to healthcare.

Pharma, Media, Government organizations sometimes find themselves in dire need for a quick survey of licensed physicians. They are happy to pay honorariums for a response, but how does one quickly assemble a large enough group of physicians based on a specific criteria (like specialty, location, etc.)? TruthOnCall aims to serve that need. Physicians, verified through their provider ID (NPI), sign-up on TruthOnCall to receive text questions through SMS. If they respond within 24 hours, they earn $10 per question. Once the amount reaches $100 or above, TruthOnCall mails a check to the physician.

Granted that there is a need here. Big companies often find it hard to get any objective granular data on strategic issues- surprise move by a competitor, drug recall in same class, end-of-the-year justification for a marketing campaign, etc. The usual source are industry analyst firms like Frost or Gartner, but the facts in those reports are often too generalized. So getting feedback from a thousand physicians in a few hours can be worth a lot.

But all that depends on the critical assumption of consistent demand and supply. There needs to be enough supply of physicians (in a given specialty) signed up, and there needs to be a demand from an organization willing to pay. Getting the former is the hardest. Metcalfe’s Law from telecom applies here. It’s clear that the value of such a network grows exponentially with the number of connected users in the network. But niche social networks don’t crystallize by themselves overnight. To reach that critical mass (where networks start having “value”), they need significant money or marketing or both. No good way to tell how TruthOnCall is doing with respect to incoming demand and supply.

Some side-notes: There are a few physician twitter celebrities- (@KevinMD, @DeanOrnishMD, @jhalamka, @tedeytan…). Maybe a viable alternative for rapid physician feedback is getting these guys to tweet the question. Generic networks aside, Epocrates is one good example of a viable physician network. Incidentally, this sort of honorarium service is a good fit for Doximity, which is another physician networking startup by the co-founder of Epocrates.