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In this digital age, U.S. physicians still send and receive some 15 billion faxes a year. But not Dr. Howard Luks, chief of sports medicine and knee replacements at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y.
Luks, whose practice operates as a small business, is an avid user of Doximity, a Facebook-like social network for health care professionals. The service, launched 17 months ago, has enabled Luks to nurture a close-knit circle of about a dozen referring doctors and specialists with whom he confers and shares records on a daily basis, mostly on his iPhone.
Instead of relying on fax machines and clerical staff, Luks and his colleagues are tapping into online posting and sharing technologies as part of their daily routines. These are the same type of Internet systems that teenagers use to cultivate friends and chronicle their daily lives.
Luks is now able to consult with his patients' primary-care doctors and other specialists before, during and after surgeries — in near real time.
"Utilizing socially rooted tools to collaborate among colleagues and experts (that) we might not otherwise have access to improves care and improves the speed and efficiency with which we can offer that care," Luks says.
This is the leading edge of a sizzling tech trend: the emergence of a new category of social-media systems designed expressly to boost workplace productivity. IBM, Oracle, SAP and Salesforce.com — and a raft of start-ups, such as Doximity — are developing and promoting these new social-media systems for the workplace. Given big corporations' resistance to change, the proving ground for social-media work tools has been unfolding mostly among small and midsize businesses, so-called SMBs, those with five to 5,000 employees.
The race is on to grab chunks of a global market for social-media tools that's expected to swell to $4.5 billion by 2016, up from $767 million in 2011, according to research firm IDC. For IDC's prediction to pan out, spending on social-media tools for business use must jump on the order of 40% annually for five consecutive years.
Yet, that lofty growth projection could prove to be too low, should converging drivers kick into high gear, says Raymond Boggs, IDC's vice president of SMB research.
Companies are obsessed with squeezing more productivity from workers, who, in turn, are increasingly using Internet cloud services and mobile devices to toil from almost anywhere, even the back seat of a taxi or while walking down hallways at work. Meanwhile, social-media technologies are readily available, and online relationship-building has become mainstream.
Microsoft recently placed a big bet that the anticipated gold rush for social-media tools will materialize. The software giant last month anted up $1.2 billion to acquire Yammer, a start-up social network for general business communications.
"People are engaging in all kinds of social-networking activities in their private lives, and now they want to take those same positive experiences and move it into their professional lives," Boggs says.