The folks behind local startup HealthTap think they may have just ushered in a new era in personalized health care.
HealthTap unveiled an online health platform on Tuesday that offers interactive and personalized medical information for users.
Launched in beta, the service draws from a network of more than 550 physicians who answer health questions posed by users. Those answers are then fed into a vast knowledge base that is shared with anyone else on the site looking for similar advice.
For anyone unsatisfied with online health websites that often draw from static databases of knowledge to offer guidance, HealthTap may offer a good alternative.
“Most people just go to the Internet and start searching on search engines, and go to these portals, and find these mountains and rivers of health information that is confusing,” said HealthTap CEO Ron Gutman. “It’s organized in a way that if you don’t have a deep understanding of medicine, it’s very hard to interpret.”
Indeed, a 2010 Pew Internet study showed that nearly 60 percent of adults with at least one chronic condition found the health information they found online to be of no help at all.
Gutman said he believes this is because the information found online isn’t organized with the patient in mind.
“It’s not about you,” he said. “It’s about conditions, about disease, about symptoms, about treatments, but it’s never organized around the individual.”
Molly Maloof, who is earning her MD from the University of Illinois College of Medicine next month, said that part of the reason why people can't find good information online, however, is simply because they do not know where to look.
"Only 12 percent of the U.S. population has sufficient health literacy," she said, "which is essential for individuals to understand doctors' orders or read about health conditions. If HealthTap aims to educate patients in the process of engaging them through the site, it has the potential to be an extremely valuable resource."
Maloof cautioned, however, that an interactive website's usage depends largely on its usability.
"If it's too complex to use, one could see it ending up a niche website only used by highly educated individuals who are seasoned internet users," she said.
Gutman says that HealthTap is intuitive and simple to use—indeed, that seems in many ways to be the entire point of the application. Now, with this week's beta release being geared specifically toward moms and the topic of children’s health, that ease of use will be put to a stringent test.
For new users thinking of trying HealthTap, Gutman says this: Let's say you found yourself pregnant one day, and soon thereafter discovered you had a fever. You could log into HealthTap, build a profile, and start getting answers and tips from real doctors, in addition to data from a proprietary knowledge base, that would move you closer to a diagnosis, and to a specific local physician who could help you.
You could then choose to connect with that physician directly through HealthTap, and offer that doctor as much of your personalized health information, securely stored on HealthTap's servers, as you like.
For physicians, who are often looking for new patients, HealthTap offers a good way to improve patient care while operating within tight constraints, such as short patient visits. Most doctors spend less than 20 minutes with patients at a time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
HealthTap can improve the quality of patients’ first consultations by collecting answers to many of the rudimentary questions doctors ask during those visits in advance, allowing for a more in-depth, detailed exchange from day one.
“HealthTap is revolutionizing the way people and physicians find, share and use health information, both on- and offline,” said Dr. Alan Greene, HealthTap medical director and clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.
“HealthTap puts us all—physicians and users—on the same page," said Greene, "delivering an integrated health experience that gives patients succinct, actionable medical information from trusted doctors—anytime, anywhere. Simultaneously, it empowers physicians to effortlessly extend their wisdom and improve the quality of patient care beyond their office hours.”
Located just blocks from University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto, HealthTap's team is made up of numerous Stanford doctors, and just last month, it received $2.35 million in seed financing from Menlo Park-based Mohr Davidow Ventures. It also has angel investors, including Esther Dyson, former CEO of Veritas Software; Mark Leslie; and Aaron Patzer, founder and former CEO of Mint.com, according to TechCrunch.
To join HealthTap’s free public beta, visit healthtap.com.