Two startups try to break 10+ trend of search engine as starting point for health info

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The more things change, the more they remain the same.

The old adage pretty much sums up a recent report from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, which found that eight in 10 users looking for health information online still begin their hunt on a search engine. That figure has not changed since the same question was asked by Pew in 2000.

Read that last sentence again and then ponder the proliferation of health websites in today’s world. There’s WebMD, Healthline and even the Mayo Clinic, to name just a few. And yet, Dr. Google, or Bing or Yahoo’s decade-long hegemony continues to be unchallenged.


Here are a few other interesting tidbits from the Pew report:

  • 35 percent of U.S. adults have surfed the Internet to determine the condition they are suffering. Pew researchers have a name for these folks: “online diagnosers.”
  • 53 percent of these online diagnosers told their physicians about what they found online.
  • 41 percent of online diagnosers had clinicians confirm their conditions.

Old habits die hard, but this is America and there are several startups out there looking to break the let’s-ask-Google-about-what-this-symptom-means habit. Two startups come to mind: San Francisco-based HealthTap and Minneapolis-based Clear.MD.

HealthTap’s genesis, ironically enough, is rooted in the Internet & American Life Project’s survey that polled people in late 2008 and found that 59 percent of adults living with one or more conditions found online health information to be “no help at all.” To improve the quality of health information available on the Internet, HealthTap has created a platform through which everyday users can tap the expertise of more than 30,000 physicians to answer health questions free of charge. For a small fee, users can also pay to “see” the doctor, which essentially means that a HeathTap physician of the patient’s choice can communicate with them and evaluate relevant medical records. Founder and CEO Ron Gutman said in an earlier interview that HealthTap’s goal is to¬†bridge the chasm between doctors and patients.

Clear.MD wants to bridge the distance between the two groups by being the YouTube of health videos. The Minneasota startup has developed a technology platform¬† doctors can use to create short, 30-second videos about various health topics. What’s more, the Clear.MD site has developed a tool by which users in a particular location are served up videos from doctors in their geographic locations.

It’s a win-win for doctors, patients and hospitals, said Clear.MD founder and CEO John Brownlee in an earlier interview. That’s because patients get accurate information about a disease, a surgical procedure or just learn more about symptoms, while doctors rest easy knowing that patients can go home and access videos with instructions for postsurgery, for instance. Hospitals can also use Clear.MD as a patient recruiting tool.

Now the question is whether HealthTap and Clear.MD are among startups that will be able to move the needle the next time Pew asks consumers where they go to get health info online?


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Arundhati Parmar

By Arundhati Parmar

Arundhati Parmar is the Medical Devices Reporter at MedCity News. She has covered medical technology since 2008 and specialized in business journalism since 2001. Parmar has three degrees from three continents - a Bachelor of Arts in English from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India; a Masters in English Literature from the University of Sydney, Australia and a Masters in Journalism from Northwestern University in Chicago. She has sworn never to enter a classroom again.
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