Summary:

Another startup wants to save patients from a deluge of potentially irrelevant health information online with a service that customizes a regular feed of reliable research.

digital health
photo: Mopic

Dr. Google may be the most popular medical “expert” on the internet, but yet another company wants to push the faux authority off its perch.

For the past nine or so months, New York-based Medivizor has tested a personalized medical research service with a small group of invited patients and caregivers. This week, the company opened up its service to the public.

Despite the shortcomings of using search engines to look for health information, the fact is they remain a top destination for patients hungry for answers. According to a report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project earlier this year, eight in 10 Internet users say their last health-related search began with a search engine. But, as we’ve covered before, search engines often return too much irrelevant information, and they don’t give people the context they may need or way to evaluate a source’s reliability.

To address those problems, Medivizor says its free service curates and interprets top research content for users so that they only receive the information most relevant to their condition.

“It’s a combination of the social web, software and medical expertise. All these three work together to create personalized medical information,” said CEO and co-founder Tal Givoly.

To start, users answer a set of questions that help the service understand their needs. For example, if a user indicates that he has diabetes, it prompts him to input the type of diabetes, any complications he has, when he was diagnosed, family history, medication and several other details. It also asks for basic information, like weight, age and ethnicity.

As relevant information emerges – either from published research papers or news reports spotted by the company’s algorithms, its team of medical experts or the community at large – the service translates it into understandable language for users and routes it to the people who could use it most.

Given the amount of research generated, most doctors can’t possibly stay current with the literature that’s most relevant to each of their patients. So it usually falls to the patient to stay on top of the latest research. But, as Medivizor’s chief medical officer Dr. Steve Kaplan (who is also a professor at Weill Cornell Medical College and director of the Men’s Health Center at New York Presbyterian Hospital) pointed out, patients often end up with bad information.

That means doctors, who are already short on time, are left devoting a good chunk of a patient visit debunking what patients have discovered. Givoly said Medivizor’s hope is that by arming patients and caregivers with better information, they can make doctor’s visits more efficient and encourage better outcomes.

Considering that it’s free, Medivizor could certainly appeal to patients with chronic conditions who are most actively looking answers. But, for now, the service only supports those with a few conditions, including prostate cancer, breast cancer, diabetes and melanoma. The company said it plans to expand to cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and other conditions soon.

It’s also not the only company out there interested in providing people with personalized health information online. For example, Meddik offers a social platform that lets patients share helpful resources; Symcat relies on algorithms to help people understand their symptoms; and HealthTap gives people 24/7 access to doctors who can answer personal questions. Health information giant WebMD has plans to personalize health information through a partnership with Qualcomm Life that would let it learn more about patient needs through devices.

In addition to its free service, Givoly said Medivizor, which has raised an undisclosed amount of funding, is considering a premium product for patients and caregivers. He also said the company could make money through advertising, referrals and a licensed white label product for healthcare institutions.

Image by Mopic via Shutterstock.

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