Blog Post

HealthTap adds peer-reviewed research to keep ‘cyberchondria’ at bay

When they’re looking for answers to healthcare questions, most patients and caregivers make a beeline for the Web. But, often, a consultation with a search engine leaves people more confused – and scared – than they were before.

Since launching last year, HealthTap has helped people find reliable medical information through a network of more than 15,000 doctors who can provide written, real-time responses to patient questions online. On Monday, the Palo Alto-based startup is adding yet another resource for those hungry for health information: the full library of peer-reviewed articles from the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed.

“Caregivers and patients will really obsess about finding what is the latest [research] on what is happening. … They will dive deeper and deeper but they don’t have the knowledge, they don’t know how to translate,” said Ron Gutman co-founder and CEO of HealthTap. “This gives doctors the opportunity to translate [their work] and lets patients who read these [articles] ask doctors about it.”

Not only has HealthTap mapped the PubMed database against the site’s list of topics to make it easier for patients to search for relevant information, it has mapped the database against its list of doctors so that patients can spot the specialists in each areaa.

Each time HealthTap ingests an article written by a doctor in its network, it gives the doctor the option to write an overview that translates jargony docspeak into plain English for the site’s users. And, as patients read the articles, it lets them send notes to the authors asking for clarification. Patients also have the option to reference articles as they ask general questions of doctors on HealthTap.  On the site, all public questions are free, but users have the option to pay $9.99 for a real-time private message with a doctor.

The goal, said Gutman, is that patients will be able to access easy-to-understand cutting-edge research while simultaneously educating doctors – on HealthTap, as well as their own doctors offline.  The dissemination piece is particularly interesting given recent research, highlighted by HealthTap, indicating that it can take one to two decades for original research to reach routine clinical practice.

About one in seven doctors on the site cross-references to a PubMed article, HealthTap said, and those doctors respond to public questions within 24 hours. Through its platform, patients can also query authors not yet on HealthTap, but responses are not guaranteed.

Sites like Symcat, Meddik, PatientsLikeMe and HealthLine similarly want to provide better health information online but HealthTap is unique in its ability to connect patients with such a vast network of doctors in real-time. To date, the startup has raised nearly $14 million from Mayfield Fund and Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors and others.