By Alina Selyukh
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Days ahead of its official launch, Doximity -- a LinkedIn-style application for healthcare professionals -- already has the backing of the venture capital community and thousands of U.S. doctors.
Since its unofficial start in October, Doximity has looped in more than 7,000 doctors, some $100,000 in revenue from a contract with a major medical company and is about to close a round of venture capital funding, the company's chief executive told Reuters in a recent interview.
"We've signed in the dotted line right now for a round that's larger than $10 million," said Jeff Tangney. He declined to provide further details of the contract of the VC firms involved in the funding round.
His San Mateo, California, company has created a free application for mobile devices -- what Tangney calls a Facebook or LinkedIn for doctors only.
By subscribing to Doximity, doctors can search nationwide databases of medical specialists, reconnect with med school classmates, find direct back phone numbers for hospitals and, a favorite, send text messages or even picture mail over a secure and law-compliant network.
"Medical communications is a big problem," Tangney said.
"It's mind-blowing, but doctors can't use email, they can't use SMS, so what can they do? They fax each other."
Strict regulations limit ways doctors can exchange medical records or reach out for advice to colleagues outside of their hospitals, always wary of patient privacy and data security.
For example, while doctors can email each other within a secure network of a medical center, they have to be careful what information they send outside of their networks. Doctors say they often adjust to the rule in their emails and text messages by making general statements and asking broad questions not traceable to specific cases or patients.
Now the biggest venue for doctors to collaborate is Sermo, the largest online physician community with more than 115,000 members, according to the website. Sermo's main difference from Doximity, Tangney said, is anonymity of comments.
Doximity is available on the Web, iPhone, iPad and devices running on Android, Google's operating system. A version for BlackBerry is expected by the end of 2011.
FROM STEVE JOBS TO YOUNG DOCTORS
The entire operation includes only about 15 people on staff, about a dozen of whom are engineers -- one formerly of LinkedIn and a few from Tangney's previous venture Epocrates, a mobile medical reference service.
As chief operating officer at Epocrates, Tangney received his first approval from Apple as the mobile application became one of five featured by Steve Jobs in his unveiling of the iPhone app store.
Tangney tells the story of Jobs' personal physician requesting the mobile application be included on the iPhone in order for her to agree to switch from her Palm Treo.
Tangney spent 10 years at Epocrates, leaving in 2009, just as the company started barreling toward an initial public offering. He was anxious to create something new.
Epocrates raised $85.8 million in an IPO on February 1 and its shares have since climbed more than 35 percent from the offering price. Doximity's first investor, InterWest Partners, was also Epocrates' first and remains its biggest.
Ultimately, like Epocrates, Doximity would generate revenue from premium services to subscribers or hospitals and opportunities for highly targeted research and surveys by marketing firms, Tangney said.
Although the company has looped in more than 1 percent of U.S. medical professionals, some remain leery of disclosing their personal information to Doximity and opening themselves up to be contacted by just about anybody in the field.
"I can't imagine that people would do that and offer advice," said Gabrielle Gold-von Simson, a pediatrician in New York. "That puts them in a spot where they're susceptible to, say, malpractice allegations."
Tangney said he is banking on younger doctors who come in to the profession also joining Doximity, which is why the official launch will follow the American Medical Students Association conference in March in Washington, D.C.
"We're definitely very focused on the younger physicians -- they get it," he said.
"Our big goal for 2011 is to really put our stamp on that generation of younger doctors."
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh, editing by Matthew Lewis)