Dr. Chris Porter – the MDigitalLife Interview

Posted by: in Global Healthcare, Healthcare Insights, MDigitalLife, Medical Communications on February 22, 2012

#MDigitalLife is a WCG program designed to learn from and to showcase physicians who are blazing new trails in the digital world – changing the way that medicine is practiced and better health is realized.  You can find previous posts here.

We’re creating a community of surgeons online in a way Generation X understands. OnSurg shares their values – we support women in surgery; life/career balance; social media. We want to explore new models for doctor-patient communication, taking advantage of mobile technologies and crowdsourced educational tools.  These things will make life better for the next gen of surgeons, and their patients will benefit hugely from the transformation in diffusion of knowledge.

Chris Porter, MD – Founder and Principal, OnSurg.com

When I began this series, my friend Bryan Vartabedian tipped me off to a few people whom I should definitely be following in the world of online physicians. I remember him particularly referencing a surgeon named Chris Porter – whom he said “had a terrific voice on his blog.” I started reading, and it didn’t take me long to figure out that Dr. V was right.

Chris Porter is a teaching surgeon.  For the last several years, he’s worked to train general surgeons as they complete their residencies.  I guess that I never realized it, but general surgeons tend to do a lot of learning on the job in their residencies … in other words, they’re operating on real patients – along with a senior physician like Chris.

But even though the on-the-job training is intense, there is an amazing amount of learning that needs to happen outside the OR.  A few years ago, Chris started to catalog a series of resources for his residents … and through the course of that process realized that there was no great online resource for general surgeons.  There were a few sites that had excellent content, but were weighted down with subscriptions and cumbersome navigation.  There are also a few medical schools that maintain nice content libraries – but they take a massive amount of effort to locate and sift through.  In any case, as Chris relates, “There was definitely nobody offering to put it together in the way the typical internet user expects it: free, searchable, and fun.”   As a result,  he created OnSurg.com to address that gap – a web site that’s intended to be both a clinical resource and a community resource.

“When Elsevier hooks me up with one-click, 99-cent literature singles, I’ll buy those babies up like a tween with an iTunes gift card.”

Chris Porter, MD – from You Could Be Reading This Full Article

For now, OnSurg is really a way for general surgeons to learn from and to interact with each other … but evenutally Chris sees it as a way for surgeons to interface with patients and other members of the “healthcare ecosystem” (e.g., payers, policy-makers, advocacy groups, pharma and device companies, etc.) as well.

Like many sites, OnSurg relies on a couple of important factors in order to grow and thrive: Great content, and physicians who come in to interact with that content and with each other.  Since Chris is a working physician, creating all of the content from scratch was a non-starter – and not really necessary anyway.  As Chris found, it’s not that there’s necessarily a lack of content; it’s just really hard to find and evaluate.  So for now, Chris and a small group of pioneers are creating content through the OnSurg blog, but also curating the best content from other parts of the web.  Eventually, Chris hopes to identify volunteer “curation leads” for each section of the web site:

Minimally Invasive Surgery

Colorectal Surgery

Breast Surgery

Surgical Oncology and Endocrine

Trauma and Critical Care

Medicine, Surgery, and Society



Surgical Education


Right now OnSurg is a labor of love that’s operated out of Chris’ own time and pocketbook.  He’s temporarily working a part-time surgery job (just 40 hours per week), so at the moment he’s able to spend 50-60 hours per week on OnSurg.

He promotes the site actively through twitter and facebook.  And though the site has been around for about a year, he’s lately had an explosion in interest.  Facebook has been a huge channel to introduce people to the site – they’re over 8,500 likes at this point (which is 1,000 more than 3 days ago!) and growing fast.  Facebook advertising has been a huge boon to OnSurg.  Because Chris is only advertising to general surgeons, he has almost zero competition from other advertisers – making his ad buys quite inexpensive.

One really interesting find that Chris has made:  There are a tremendous number of surgeons from the developing world that have gravitated to OnSurg.  As a frequent volunteer surgeon abroad, Chris knows that the average developing-world physician has very limited access to books, cadavers, formal didactics and sometimes even plumbing … but often they have great, cheap phone and internet service … so OnSurg becomes their window to the world of general surgery.

Chris’ long-term vision is for OnSurg to become profitable enough that he can become a volunteer surgeon – and donate half his profits to worthy organizations like Doctors Without Borders and others focused on healthcare and medicine in the developing world.  He also envisions a new function of the site in the not-too-distant future … he’d like to see it become a kind of marketplace for surgeons to learn about new products and services … ranging from medical devicesand equipment to online profiles, job placement, reputation management and other communication tools.  A one-stop-shop for surgeons online.

“Besides our goals in education and network-building, OnSurg aims to be the general surgeon’s Craiglist, Huffpost, and Amazon.”

Chris Porter, MD


The primary focus right now is to build awareness of – and traffic to – the site.  But soon it’s going to be time to focus hard on on strategic content creation, management and revenue models.  And in order to get there, he’s going to need some help from passionate young surgeons who are eager to make a difference for their peers and their patients.

As that traffic continues to grow, there are a lot of differing calls to action for general surgeons.  The one consistent call, though, is to be there.  Read.  Comment.  Share.  Perhaps begin to create your own content in the form of blog posts or videos.  Curate content from the best of the web.  And someday, even host a live Q&A session with other surgeons – or moderate a tweetchat for the same.  Perhaps most importantly, Chris wants to reach American residency programs – and the very people who’re most likely to appreciate the resources and the community they find there.

In terms of the future, there are a few things Chris hopes to see happen:

First, he hopes to expand the site from being a physician-to-physician vehicle; opening it up for surgeons to talk to other players in the health ecosystem (especially patients).  But he also sees OnSurg as a potential purveyor of more and more custom education content that just doesn’t exist today.  Chris believes that mobile (iphone/ipad) and web-based tools are more befitting of the surgical specialties than medical specialties because surgery (like radiology) is a visual endeavor.

In the transition from old educational models, much emphasis is placed on computer simulation (in which marketing plays a huge role). Meanwhile, the phenomenal educational value of simple video and mobile diagrams (iPad on the sterile field during surgery) is overlooked.


With the help of a sponsor, OnSurg plans simple educational smartphone/tablet apps for surgical education (by topic and by operation: hernia, colon cancer,breast biopsy, etc.) for use IN the operating room. The apps will link to Onsurg’s continually updated web content relevant to the topic

“The surgical education paradigm shift has barely begun. Onsurg hopes to be instrumental in the transition.”

Chris Porter, MD

You can find Chris online in all of the following places:

OnSurg.com – http://onsurg.com

Twitter – @PorterOnSurg; @GetOnSurg

YouTube – http://www.youtube.com/user/OnSurg?feature=watch

Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/OnSurg

By: Greg Matthews

Greg Matthews is the the creator and Managing Director of the W2O Group's MDigitalLife - Understanding, Engaging and Activating Physicians in the Digital Age

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3 Responses

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  1. Anonymous said

    The most innovative piece of this idea is its simplicity. When this branches into orthopaedics, I know a few people who might get involved …

  2. Thanks, Adam! Yeah, I really like the model that Chris is creating here. The other thing that I like is that he’s not relying on other people to do the work; he is applying personal time and elbow grease to learn and do all the work himself. There’s no better way to gain mastery than to get in there and mix it up on blogs, twitter, facebook, etc.

  3. Greg, I like what you’re doing with #MDigitalLife it’s cool stuff working with true healthcare professionals that are making a difference in the digital world. I’ll keep following and tuning in. I look forward to seeing more. Cheers, BB

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