Bloomberg Subscribers Get Access to Sermo Physician Forum

10/23/08Follow @wroush

It seems that Sermo, the exclusive online community for physicians, is finding new ways to monetize its population of members almost as quickly as that population is growing.

Last year, the password-protected site, where some 90,000 practicing physicians consult with one another on medical cases and other issues via a system of comments and polls, rolled out a service called AlphaMD that gives investors read-only access to Sermo’s user forums, plus the ability to query members directly through surveys. The company markets AlphaMD as a source of early, “actionable” intelligence about healthcare industry trends.

And today, at the Health 2.0 conference in San Francisco, Sermo CEO Daniel Palestrant introduced a new service called the Health Exchange that amounts to a vast expansion of AlphaMD. All 280,000 analysts and investors who use the Bloomberg Professional information service will soon have access to Sermo as part of their regular subscriptions, Palestrant announced. For an extra fee, Bloomberg users will also be able to survey Sermo users on breaking healthcare news and other questions and connect directly with consenting physicians.

Sermo touts the Healthcare Exchange as an exclusive source of information that could help Bloomberg subscribers outmaneuver other investors, by providing them with new “transparency” in an industry where gatekeepers such as journal editors and paid pharmaceutical-industry consultants have traditionally had an outsized influence on investor opinion. “The Healthcare Exchange tears down the barriers between those who need information and those who have it,” Palestrant said in a speech at the Health 2.0 meeting.

Of course, it’s a rarefied form of transparency that Sermo is promoting. The group of investors who could make good use of the insights exchanged on the Sermo network is arguably much larger than the group that can afford to pay $1,500 to $1,800 per month for access to Bloomberg terminals.

But there are certainly plenty of voices on Sermo vying to be heard. When Rebecca first reported on Sermo in July 2007, the Cambridge, MA-based startup had only about 20,000 members. That number had grown to 26,000 by the time of her followup story in September 2007, nearly 50,000 by January 2008, and 77,000 by late August. It’s now 90,000, and growing at 7,000 per month, according to Palestrant.

For Bloomberg, supplying subscribers with access to these medical experts could give service a big leg up over its main rival, the newly-merged Thomson Reuters. Sermo, which has been staffing up rapidly since its $26.7 million Series C financing round last fall, obviously stands to benefit as well. The terms of the agreement with Bloomberg weren’t disclosed, but on top of any direct fee it’s collecting from the news service, it will likely have a long line of Bloomberg subscribers queuing up to quiz physicians directly—say, about the prospects that a particular company’s drugs will fare well in clinical trials.

And investors aren’t the only ones feasting on the physician discussions at Sermo. As Ryan reported in August, Palestrant says he has lined up deals giving site access to M.D.’s at nine of the world’s 12 largest drug companies, including New York-based Pfizer.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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