Where HealthCare Meets Web 2.0

Today I’m at the Health 2.0 Conference here in San Francisco, the first gathering of its kind: over 400 entrepreneurs, investors, analysts, media and other industry insiders have convened to discuss what happens when old world healthcare meets new world Web 2.0. The event is sponsored by Silicon Valley icon Cisco Systems, and representatives of Google, Yahoo! and other Web heavyweights all have speakers on the program.


You might wonder what this is all about, as in what do computer networking gear and search sites have to do with healthcare? It’s simple, folks: all these companies want a piece of the pie. Now that almost 58 million or 75% of American households subscribe to broadband internet access, patients and caregivers alike are increasingly getting together on the web. DiabetesMine.com itself is a community -– or social network -– with the purpose of discussing our condition and issues relevant to our health and well-being.

Matthew Holt, creator of the influential Health Care Blog and organizer of the Health 2.0 Conference, sees social networks at the core of a major new trend in healthcare interaction:

“Social networks are redefining relationships within communities in unanticipated and previously unimaginable ways. Web 2.0 tools – like blogs, wikis, podcasts, user-generated video and specialized search – are generating a fundamental shift away from the traditional flow of information as defined by payers, physicians, hospital systems, and suppliers. It is absolutely clear that we are at the start of a significant shift in demand from both consumers and providers for better information and easier ways to share experiences.”

Or as the Wall Street Journal puts in a recent article:

“The social-networking revolution is coming to healthcare, at the same time that new Internet technologies and software programs are making it easier than ever for consumers to find timely, personalized health information online. Patients who once connected mainly through email discussion groups and chat rooms are building more sophisticated virtual communities that enable them to share information about treatment and coping and build a personal network of friends. At the same time, traditional Web sites that once offered cumbersome pages of static data are developing blogs, podcasts, and customized search engines to deliver the most relevant and timely information on health topics.”

In another recent article, The
points to the happy phenomenon that I –- and hopefully many readers of
DiabetesMine.com -– have personally experienced: thousands of online patients
sometimes know more than a small group of expert doctors.

“Patients who live with chronic diseases such as epilepsy often know more about them than their doctors, contends Daniel Hoch, a professor at Harvard Medical School. … Many doctors, he says, ‘don’t get the wisdom of crowds.’ But he thinks the combined knowledge of a crowd of his patients would be far greater than his own.”

The numbers of people engaging in health issues on the web are staggering. Over 20% of American internet users have created some sort of health-related content, according to Jupiter, a leading market-research firm. This kind of traffic appeals to tech-savvy entrepreneurs, who realize the financial potential of healthcare communities on the web. Examples of some hot innovators are represented on the panel I’m leading today, entitled “Social Media for Patients”:

* Doug Hirsch, CEO, DailyStrength.org – so far the web’s most comprehensive health network, with 500+ interactive communities around specific conditions

* Ben Heywood, CEO, Patients Like Me – a fast-growing new community/consumer tool with deep tracking capabilities for conditions like ALS, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease

* Steve Krein, CEO, OrganizedWisdom – a sort of ueber-search engine for health issues that uses human reviewers to do away with junk links and spam

* Karen Herzog, Co-Founder, Sophia’s Garden – a healing community for parents of chronically ill children, soon to be taking the concept to a new level with a virtual world, a’la Second Life, for its concerned parents

* John de Souza, CEO, MedHelp International – perhaps the oldest and most established health community site (since 1994!), offering direct doctor-patient Q&A along with blogs and community tools

* Brian Loew, CEO, Inspire.com – formerly ClincaHealth, another community site for patients and caregivers, but with key partnerships with numerous established health orgs, like the Women’s Heart Association, the Lung Cancer Alliance, and Preemie Magazine

From an online patient’s (or “ePatient’s”) perspective, this dot-health-boom is nothing but good news. We get more information, meet new soul mates and have the potential to organize on the web to make our collective voice heard.

Of course the plethora of new offerings can be kind of overwhelming on the face of it, but in the ultra-Democratic world of the web, the good stuff will float to the top and the rest will wither away. It’s our prerogative then, as ePatients, to decide which online health stuff will survive, and thrive.


9 Responses

  1. Kevin
    Kevin September 20, 2007 at 9:25 am | | Reply

    I couldn’t agree more! I have witnessed first hand the difference that the diabetes social network has on patient outcomes including improvements in quality of life.

    In Dec 2002, we were the first to put a mobile version of Web2.0 in the hands of people with diabetes. The goal was to connect PWD with their team via glucose alerts and reports and also with their peers as an extended community. We took it a step further than most with a requirement that the system wasn’t predicated on sitting in front of an Internet connected computer (no extra work! and sitting more isn’t always a good thing – especially for PWD). One of the most interesting features that the participants liked back in ’02 was a community plot that related patients to their peers based on average blood sugars vs. glycemic variability.

    You can read about the trial presented at the 2003 Diabetes Technology Society’s Annual Meeting in San Francisco at http://a1csd.com

    We witnessed all kinds of behavioral change and received high marks for patient satisfaction because of the diabetes social networking features and from proactive care from their endocrinologist (who is also a part of the social network in diabetes). For the first time, many patients felt connected to other people with diabetes.

    Just knowing that you are not alone in this diabetes thing and that even PWD with the tightest control have bad days, too seems to be an underlying theme. It reminds us that we can’t always control diabetes – we just do our best to nudge it within range as much as possible.

    I don’t know about Health2.0 and its broad implications but I do know that if we stay focused on the user experience and keep it simple, new technologies will continue to improve the lives of people with chronic health conditions including their social network.

  2. Challenge Diabetes
    Challenge Diabetes September 20, 2007 at 9:58 am | | Reply

    What the Hell is Health2.0?

    The Health2.0 Conference is in full swing by now having kicked off this morning in San Francisco. According to Matthew Holt, the founder of this new movement and who blogs over at The Health Care Blog, he defines it as:

  3. Jeff
    Jeff September 20, 2007 at 12:02 pm | | Reply

    i see you did not include MDJunction.com? why? i’m a member of their Lyme support group (they have many) and it is great for me and my family.

  4. JBN
    JBN September 25, 2007 at 12:50 am | | Reply

    Firstly, I would like to thank you for your coverage of the fascinating Health 2.0 Conference. While your pro-Medicine 2.0 reviews understandably stem from your personal experience with this rapidly evolving movement, I would like to raise a few potential downsides concerning the direction in which it is headed. Saying this however, I would initially like to stress my acknowledgment of the significant benefits this medical cyber community may offer to internet users worldwide. As stated in your post, “58 million or 75% of American households subscribe to broadband internet access,” a massive population of possible medical product and service consumers. These astronomical numbers alone are a goldmine for companies all wanting “a piece of the pie.” But with considerable financial gain at stake with such a large audience, the reasoning behind a companies’ involvement in the online health care industry must not be taken lightly. With “tech-savvy entrepreneurs” taking advantage of the “financial potential of health care communities on the web”, misinformation may trial in second to profit gain. On an “ultra-Democratic” interface largely devoid of content monitoring, individuals seeking medical assistance via the internet should be wary. Further with regards to the 58 million online users, where does that leave the other 25% of the population without access to these online support groups and information centers? Although Health 2.0 may benefit a large population, it sets up a dichotomy between those who have access to the online information and those who do not. As more users catch onto this new medical cyberspace tidal wave, more programs and services will likely be taken from the books to the web, further alienating the 25% of Americans, often already without access to such knowledge. Finally, as you discussed, over “20% of American internet users have created some sort of health-related content.” By uploading and documenting personal experiences, particularly those which are medically-related, one swings open the doors for the exploitation of one’s information.

  5. AmyT
    AmyT October 1, 2007 at 12:20 pm | | Reply

    Hi JBN,
    You are absolutely right about the rift between the technology “haves” and the “have-nots.” This was my very first question posed to the panel on SM for patients. But the fact is, more and more people are finding their way to the internet SOMEHOW.

    Case-in-point: DailyStrength.org has a support group for homeless people (!), with 102 members and growing. So never assume that certain groups aren’t online…

  6. Read/WriteWeb
    Read/WriteWeb November 26, 2007 at 7:44 pm | | Reply

    A Health 2.0 Overview, Through the Eyes of a New Diabetic

    Last Monday I found out from my doctor that I have Diabetes (probably Type 1), which basically means high blood sugar. It was quite a surprise, as I have no family history of diabetes and it is relatively uncommon to…

  7. mike
    mike February 12, 2008 at 8:34 pm | | Reply

    hi i have so many paradigm quick set 43in 9mm mmt-396 is there anyone that would want them please call 516 852 4302

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