A startup focused on empowering patients by giving them a better way to check their symptoms online has developed what might be WebMD symptom checker’s slightly more attractive and interactive challenger.
AHEAD Research founders Craig Monsen and David Do, both Johns Hopkins University medical school students, have used data from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention to build the next-generation symptom checker. When users visit Symcat, or download the Android app, they can enter their symptoms, demographics and medical history, and will be delivered a list of conditions that might be affecting them, based on what others with similar symptoms have been diagnosed with. Users can do this anonymously, or fill out a short profile.
Symcat also recommends next steps, like visiting the emergency room or scheduling a doctor’s appointment, based on those symptoms and generated using an algorithm based on AHRQ guidelines, Monsen said.
Rather than selling the data they collect or charging users, AHEAD is going after health plans and health systems to generate revenue. The drive toward health plans becoming more consumer-driven has opened an opportunity for the company to license Symcat to large payers who are interested in helping customers choose the most cost-effective options, Monsen said. iTriage, a symptom checker that was bought by Aetna last year, has taken a similar approach with medical centers across the country.
Next up for the company, which completed the Blueprint Health accelerator program earlier this year, is releasing an iPhone app and continuing to build out the system’s capabilities to make it more useful in tracking health over longer periods of time, Monsen said, plus adding features including what treatments have worked for people with similar profiles.
Those are features also being addressed by fellow Blueprint company Meddik and other tools like CureTogether. “Our approach is less about developing or providing content,” Monsen said. “The opportunity (we see) is to find out what did people actually have and collect more structured data on that — not just narrative data, but actually getting numbers.”
The AHEAD team might want to help ease cyberchondria, but could tools like this actually make it worse? This 2008 Microsoft study, which suggested that self-diagnosis by search engine often leads Web searchers to imagine worst-case scenarios, is worth a read.