After raising $2.35 million from such notable firms and names like Mohr Davidow, Esther Dyson, Mint.com founder Aaron Patzer, and Mark Leslie, HealthTap went live Tuesday as is now open to anyone who wants personalized health advice online. Until now, the site has been in invitation-only beta mode for pregnant women and new mothers while it worked out the kinks and honed its features to be able to serve a broader health-concerned audience.
Founded as a personalized health network, HealthTap is tapping into the sea of Internet users out there who google a symptom before they call their doctor. Everyone’s done it. I do it a couple times a day, actually. And when 50.7 million Americans don't have health insurance, it's little wonder that Google has become the default medical resource for most people. But no matter how often we google symptoms, we’re inevitably disappointed when we walk away more confused than enlightened.
“In essence, today when people are looking for health information, what they find is generic information, organized around conditions,” CEO Ron Gutman told me. “HealthTap is personalized—it’s all about you. Everything else out there is about the symptom, the condition, the treatment.”
Using your personal data, such as height, weight, age, symptoms, and more, HealthTap’s network of more than 550 medical experts deliver personalized and contextualized information and advice tailored to your needs. The site is essentially taking healthcare to the social level.
To get started, the user creates a health profile including typical stats, as well as things like allergies, current medications, and so on. From there, if the user is experiencing a strange symptom, such as a fever, he or she can then type in that symptom and get a vague list of possible conditions based on that user’s health profile. And just like any doctor, the automated site narrows down the condition by asking a series of questions. The site doesn’t make diagnoses, but once a likely condition is narrowed down, the service presents possible remedies, actions to take (i.e. hospitalization), medications typically prescribed for that condition, their side effects, and so on.
The end result is a wholly personalized and contextualized health solution.
So what’s in it for physicians?
“Doctors get paid by the visit, not by the length of the visit,” explained Gutman. “The average doctor’s visit is seven to nine minutes long. Doctors just don’t have time to get to know you. They want to, but they don’t get paid for it.”
Physicians can utilize HealthTap to post supplemental information online for patients via their Online Medical Home, which they can set up to store their medical advice and continue to interact with patients beyond office visits. Physicians can also connect with new patients and offer helpful health advice that may not necessarily fall under any medical category.
“HealthTap puts us all –physicians and users – on the same page, delivering an integrated health experience that gives patients succinct, actionable medical information from trusted doctors – anytime, anywhere," said Dr. Alan Greene, HealthTap medical director and clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. "Simultaneously, it empowers physicians to effortlessly extend their wisdom and improve the quality of patient care beyond their office hours.”
Until today’s launch, HealthTap has been testing on a group of a couple hundred new mothers from Palo Alto, and a few interesting trends have emerged. When I asked Gutman what kinds of questions users were asking, he told me:
“Mostly on conditions, adverse symptoms. The vast majority of questions are health related but not necessarily medical. Questions like ‘Can I use nailpolish when I’m pregnant? Can I dye my hair when I’m pregnant?’ There’s a whole gamut of really interesting health-related questions that aren’t answered in the literature, and we rely on our extensive network of physicians to provide answers.”
He added: "We have a social mission here."
In short, the site is your own personalized at-home doctor’s office, and it’s fantastic. It’s actually hard to believe the service is completely free—but it is! Ron Gutman says that at this point he isn’t worried about monetization, he’s just focused on building a solid product.
This, of course, isn’t Gutman’s first pass at producing an interactive online health solution. Gutman previously founded Wellsphere, a company that develops Web-based and mobile health technology. He was also the Chief Products and Innovation Officer for HealthCentral, a network of condition-specific health and wellness sites.