Because I’m a doctor and I know a lot of people in the health care space, people ask me all the time for referrals. A friend with a newly diagnosed autoimmune disease, a loved one with a terrifying cancer sentence – who should I talk to?? I used to depend on the amazing clinical colleagues I’ve worked with, and I still do (ongoing thanks to all of you!). But recent experience with a newly diagnosed relative, I realized: the place we turned immediately was a social network. An earlier version of me would have said to that, WTF? You’re going to have your relative talk to a bunch of people who dismiss science and spew anecdotes about which vortex in Arizona made them feel like their tumor was shrinking? The slightly wiser me responds: the patient is the most underutilized resource in medicine. No one has a stronger incentive to find out who is the best specialist, what is the latest randomized controlled study, than she whose life depends on it. Except maybe she whose son’s life depends on it. And these people are talking to each other.

This isn’t meant to be an endorsement of any service in particular, but I have some personal experience with ACOR. The point above about the most underutilized resource in medicine – well, an exponential network effect happens when a group of these resources work together. A social network effect. They ask each other questions, they compare notes, they challenge each other. The discourse is often so rigorous, and so based on the data, it feels like you’re reading a discussion in a top scientific journal. Sometimes a pre-publication edition, since these people attend scientific conferences and keep track of trials that aren’t yet in the published literature.

Are there countless forums out there with misinformed, even dangerous advice? Absolutely. There are also doctors that offer the same. I do my best to provide my patients, and my friends and loved ones, with the best advice I can. Today, that often includes a referral to a social network. Such resources will become increasingly recognized as a critical component of health care. Indeed, we will get to a point when it is often malpractice to not offer a social network prescription.

Follow me @rzeiger and @seducehealth