Saturday, May 3, 2008

Interview with MedHelp (eHealth Innovator)

Buy our comprehensive-but-readable SPOTLIGHT REPORT on eHealth [News/Search/Community, EMR, PHR & Digital Home Health]. It's 150 pages, and has a provocative section called: "Key Trends in eHealth."

We're rolling out our slate of eHealth Innovators. MedHelp is the 5th of 10; see the whole list in coming weeks on our blog, to the right.

Our eHealth Trend #7 is:

Connections Cornucopia: Consumer-to-Consumer,

San Francisco, CA-based MedHelp is one of our eHealth Innovators of 2008 and they fit this trend optimally.

Three words about MedHelp: Very Big Audience. Here we interview President & CEO John DeSouza.

1. Tell us about how MedHelp was started.

ANSWER: MedHelp was founded by Cindy Thompson and Phil Garfinkel in 1993. Both of them were looking for medical information for their family members who were afflicted with life threatening conditions. They found the online information and support lacking and difficult to navigate and set out to create a site that would: (i) connect users with the leading health experts in the world, (ii) connect users with others who have similar experiences and interests, and (iii) provide a means for giving and receiving the emotional support that is an important part of recovery. We quickly grew to become the largest online health community in the world and now have over 5.5 million people visiting our site every month. We rely on our members, our medical partners, and the quality of our content to grow our traffic rather than on buying it. We grew over 100% last year and continue to see strong growth.

2. How is MedHelp different?

ANSWER: Each online community has their own set of features and user experience, but in the end what really differentiates the online health communities are the level of participation and the quality of the postings. The level of participation is important so that members can find others with similar conditions and get quick responses to their health questions. MedHelp has a critical mass of millions of users to connect people interested in any condition. Our communities are extremely active and our members are very knowledgeable and passionate. We have members that have been active for over a decade.

The other aspect that differentiates our site is the quality of the medical information, a critical factor in any health-related site. Our quality stems from the active participation of world-class doctors, hospitals, researchers, nurses and caregivers, combined with continuous moderation of all the communities. Users can either search our archives of millions of posts or post their own questions. An example of the quality of the interactions is when a woman posted in our Hepatitis C community asking about options to get a fibroscan done for her daughter in Europe as she was unsuccessful finding a place to get it done in the U.S. Another member, who is a famous Hepatitis medical researcher, reached out to her and offered to perform the fibroscan in his laboratory.

3. Some of your groups-- Waldenstrom's <>
Macroglobulinemia-- are intriguingly narrow-- is this a trend? What is happening in terms of segmentation in what we call Online Health/Community?

ANSWER: Like many online health sites, it would be easier for MedHelp to focus only on "popular" conditions, those that afflict large numbers of people and have a large amount of advertising dollars focused on them. However, our mission is to help people lead healthy lives and for many of our members that means finding a cure for a particular condition, be it cancer, a rare disease, or even the flu. We fundamentally believe that every condition, no matter how rare, is extremely important to the people dealing with it. We are therefore committed to creating communities for any condition our members are dealing with and the WM forum was a result of such a request. However, a real commitment to a condition means more than creating a community and hoping it works. For example, we recently created a community on Incontinentia <> Pigmenti and have partnered with Incontinentia <> Pigmenti International Foundation to get doctors, researchers, etc. involved in the community. and the narrow groups are a reflection of this belief. If there is a cure, we want to help our users find it and if there isn't, we want to help those who are researching a cure. We work with our researchers to collect data, with organizations to raise money, and with our members to raise awareness. Ultimately we believe our community is stronger by focusing on the broadest range of health issues.

4. How hard has it been to get doctors to participate in your communities?

ANSWER: We knew from the start that in order to get quality medical information we needed to involve medical experts. We decided to go after the best and are very happy that we have doctors from the leading institutions in the world, including the Cleveland Clinic <>, Partners Healthcare <> (MGH and Brigham and Women's), National Jewish <> , Vanderbilt <> Medical Center, and USF Health <> (a list of the experts can be found at What surprised us was how enthusiastic they were about participating and their level of engagement. These very experienced doctors respond to user questions seven days a week. In addition, they write blogs about what is happening in their specialty, create health pages about frequently asked questions, and upload photos and videos.

Over the years we have also worked with our experts to respond to medical questions from health workers from around the world. The health workers email us their questions, and we direct them to the appropriate expert and email the responses back to them.

5. What new features do you have planned?

ANSWER: We recently released HealthPages, our wiki for health. Our members have a lot of terrific information that they wish to share and HealthPages provides the platform to share that information. Even though this is still very new, our members have created some incredible HealthPages. Here are some examples from the Multiple <> Sclerosis, Hepatitis C <>, and Autism <> communities.

We are also focused on Personal Health Applications (PHAs) that empower our users to be proactive in managing their health. What we have found is that when there is a clear benefit to providing information, people are willing to take the time to enter and check it. Our users are willing to share a lot of medical information to get quality responses and we have started creating information templates for the different conditions to help our users get more meaningful responses from doctors and each other. We are also working with our doctors to create a set of condition-specific applications to help our users. You will see these rolling out over the next few weeks.

Read more in our 150-page SPOTLIGHT REPORT, updated each month. We carve out four discrete segments in eHealth, and tell you what's happening, how and why, including detailed revenue projections:

a. News/Search/Community
b. EMR
c. PHR
d. Digital Home Health.

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