Dr. Sang Hoon Woo is an internist at Stanford Medical School who had grown frustrated listening to his patients’ tales of trying to find health information online and reading about Steve Jobs’ misguided attempts to cure his cancer using homeopathic means found on the web. Dr. Woo decided he had to do something to help his profession reach consumers in the online (and mobile) age. So like the folks who created WebMD or Dr. Koop or myriad other online medical resources, Dr. Woo built DrMelon, with the aim of getting trusted medical information to consumers in an easily digestible form they can access from any device. He’s one of several entrepreneurs trying to bring medicine into the current connected age.
DrMelon (he was eating melon at the time he conceived the site, plus the domain name was available) was created last year, and Dr. Woo is currently raising money to take the site to a real beta within the next few months. He says he wants to be the Apple of healthcare for consumers, but what he’s doing is more akin to becoming a destination site of curated information for medical apps and information, which might make it closer to the iTunes or App Store of medical information.
The site currently offers a curated search, videos, forums and a place for patients to ask questions. Eventually, it will also contain apps recommended by doctors. Because he’s hoping patients bring DrMelon into their doctors’ offices, the web site has the same navigation and features as the mobile app. But Dr. Woo isn’t alone in thinking he has the cure for inaccessible medical information.
Dr. Woo’s startup has similarities to Happtique, a startup spun out of the Greater New York Hospital Association Ventures, that’s currently testing an app store designed for physicians as well as trying to develop a seal of approval for medical apps. In both cases, doctors are seeking ways to help consumers filter the morass of health information on the web, and eventually help build tools that can make finding trusted answers to basic questions (such as drug interactions or the efficacy of certain therapies) easier. This is both a response to spammy search results that invariably pop up when someone drops a medical condition into Google, but also an attempt to help consumers find actionable information on a single question, as opposed to a glut of questionable information on a topic.
For example, I broke my pinky toe again this weekend because I find walking to be a challenge. The DrMelon-curated search is on the right, while the Google search for the same term (broken pinky toe) is on the left. The top result for both comes from the same site, but then results diverge considerably, with Google delivering links to spam and Yahoo Answers, which can deliver less-than-trustworthy advice. This is helpful, but DrMelon, and other curated sites become super valuable if they can help create a searchable Quora-like network of expertise around medicine, where people can ask the community questions and get quality responses. Of course there’s a world of difference between asking someone to name their favorite cloud computing startups online and asking someone if that weird lump you feel in your armpit might be cancer.
Meanwhile, it’s not clear if there’s a business model around providing trusted information from doctors to consumers outside the physician’s office. Happtique wants developers to pay to have their apps reviewed by physicians in order to get its stamp of approval, while Dr. Woo is a bit more wait-and-see about revenue for now (he does run ads on the Google-generated search results he curates). Given this and a rash of other medical startups, plus the creation of the health-focused incubator Rock Health, many people see an opportunity to bring the web into the connected age, but the route to success isn’t certain.
For now, the innovation is happening around the edges, as consumers play around with data-gathering devices and share personal health challenges with friends. Employers are also involved, by buying health plans that try to entice people into social programs that promote good lifestyle decisions using gamification and other social carrots. As Dr. Woo and the hospitals working with rival Happtique are discovering, there’s a large gray area around apps, the web and business models that still needs to be defined.