Healthy Labs creates social networks for diseases

Steven Loeb · August 21, 2012 · Short URL:

Website is meant to bring people with similar illnesses together to help each other

Healthcare has been a red-hot topic the last few years. For better or for worse, people feel very passionate about their health, and, understandably, they become afraid when someone comes along and says that it may change.

Yet, chronic illnesses are rampant in America. Almost three out of four, or 70%, of American deaths are from chronic illness, and 50% of people are inflicted with them, according to the Center for Disease Control. And for many of these people, there is nowhere for them to turn. Doctor’s don’t know what to do with them, or the patient simply cannot afford the medications that would help them to feel better.

I know this first hand, as someone close to me has had a chronic illness for years, and has frequently run into brick walls trying to find help. Often it was hard either finding doctors that would take insurance or finding ones that would even believe that the illness existed at all.

If there is one good thing out of the whole mess though is that the Internet, as it so often happens, became a saving grace. Help, or at least understanding, that doctors did not provide could be found in the form of apps and social networks. People with the same problems are out there, and they now have a way to connect with each other.

And websites are starting to pop up dedicated solely to this concept. One of them, called Healthy Labs, seeks to make this process even easier by setting up social networks specifically for people with certain diseases to come together.

The Berkley-based Heathy Labs, which was founded in 2011 as a Y Combinator site, by Sean Ahrens, Will Cole and Sarah Branon, received $20,000 in seed funding from start-up incubator Rock Health in November 2011.

The story behind the site

One of the founders of Healthy Labs has a personal connection to the idea.

Ahrens suffers from a condition called Crohn’s Disease, an incurable type of inflammatory bowel disease, which he has had since the age of 12. He talks about his disease, and why he founded the site, on the initial network on the site, known as Crohnology, which launched a beta version this month.

After trying hard to find any way to treat his disease he could, even resorting to “numerous alternative and experimental therapies,” Ahrens wanted to find a way to share what he had learned with others in the same position.

“When I realized that the information I had built up from this quest could heal other patients, I went on another quest: to meet as many patients as I possibly could and share the information I had learned with them. But I knew there were tons of other patients around the world who had gone through their own journeys and had extremely valuable information to share themselves. And by sharing it, they could heal more patients,” Ahrens writes on the website.

Crohnology is meant to connect people with Crohn’s Disease and Colitis, but it is meant to be the first in a long line of networks that will help people with other conditions.

“I believe strongly in the power of connecting people. I think that when motivated people are connected, greatness is produced. If we've done our job right with Crohnology, the interface itself should fade into the background, and the relationships on the site should shine,” says Ahrens.

The company presented on Tuesday  at the Y Combinator Demo Day.

Other healthcare apps

Healthy Labs is nowhere near the only website our there seeking to assist people with their healthcare needs. 

There is MyHealthTeams, which focuses bringing together parents of autistic children, and PatientsLikeMe, which also seeks to bring support groups of people with similar illness together.

Bigevidence seeks to "improve the way clinicians and healthcare providers find, evaluate, and apply medical evidence to patients, thereby saving costs and lives,” while Cake Health helps people keep track of their healthcare paperwork and spending.

HealthTap is dedicated to improving health and well-being, and to improving the overall process of care for both the patient and the doctor, while reducing costs.

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