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Net start-up in state to unveil AMA pact

The American Medical Association is working with a start-up company that encourages doctors to swap ideas online and charges investment firms to view postings that could serve as tip-offs to drug side effects and other market-moving medical trends.

The AMA today plans to unveil a partnership with a company called Sermo Inc., which seeks to use the Web to tap into the collective wisdom of the service's growing network of 15,000 U S doctors.

Some doctors are skeptical the nine-month-old service can advance medical safety, and a pharmaceutical industry group worries the service could spread rumors .

But the 160-year-old AMA hopes its collaboration with Cambridge -based Sermo will open a new line of communication, allowing members to quickly share advice and opinions.

The two-year deal allows the Chicago-based AMA to survey its members on hot topics, just as Sermo's Wall Street subscribers solicit doctors' opinions to help guide trading decisions on drug company and medical device stocks.

"From AMA's perspective, this gives us access to the largest online physician community, and lets us connect our members with that," said Dr. Cecil B. Wilson, chairman of the board of AMA, which has 250,000 members.

Nearly three-quarters of U S doctors based outside hospitals practice alone or in groups of five or fewer physicians, the AMA says. That makes it hard for many doctors to keep up on breaking medical developments, Wilson said, because they need to rely on journals, conventions, continuing education, and word-of-mouth.

Dr. Michael Tomblyn, a radiation oncologist at the University of Minnesota, said he logs on to Sermo several times a day between patient appointments and is now one of the service's most frequent posters.

"Someone can say, 'I've got this one complicated case. Here's the workup. Have you ever seen this before, and how would you manage it?' " Tomblyn said.

"Within three hours, you can have a dozen responses from physicians in three or four different specialties."