Oct 01 2012

It’s True: Social Media Can Revolutionize Healthcare

HealthTap aims to share with the masses the wealth of medical knowledge doctors have stored in their heads.

What if you could tap into the power of more than 14,000 doctors and healthcare professionals by speaking your health query into your smartphone, which would be followed up by not only an answer to your question but also a list of appropriate doctors in your area?

That, says founder and CEO Ron Gutman, is the ultimate goal of his socialized and collaborative health-community platform, HealthTap.

If it sounds like a cross between Yahoo Answers and Apple’s Siri, that’s because the components of this sort of online social network have existed in different strains over the years.

But there hasn’t been a successful social media platform to extract the real benefits of online and remote collaboration between doctors and patients. According to HealthTap’s official site, approved physicians can answer questions and build up credibility, and they may be compensated financially and receive customer referrals from their online activity.

Writing for IBM’s A Smarter Planet blog, Gutman details more about how HealthTap works:

Here’s how it works: Once a doctor joins the HealthTap community, he or she can answer real user questions, and see how his or her peers address the same issues. Doctors can “Agree” with one another’s answers in a visible way, allowing users and other experts to see what the expert community as a whole thinks about the quality of a certain answer.

This peer review impacts the answering doctor’s DocScore (a FICO-like rating that measures a doctor’s credentials, engagement and reputation among other medical professionals). The DocScore is visible to doctors and users alike, providing an additional measure of confidence in the content that’s created.

Gutman also has a video explaining the site and its mission in more detail; it can be viewed, below.Social media and online collaboration has promised to revolutionize healthcare in the past, but let’s face it: Facebook and Twitter are open consumer platforms, on which many might not feel comfortable openly discussing their health issues.

There’s also a thorny legal issue in HIPAA to deal with, which HealthTap wraps up nicely for users and doctors alike, since it claims HIPAA certification.

The impact that HealthTap could have on healthcare is hard to understate. In short, it could be big. Gutman lays out HealthTap’s potential best in his post on A Smarter Planet:

This system has the potential to create a significant global impact. By providing a comfortable, secure public forum for doctors to lend their expertise, HealthTap is democratizing doctors’ knowledge and making it freely available beyond closed-doors, and to millions of users everywhere.

It’s clear that technology and artificial intelligence (AI), and even a human-powered approach that mixes ever-evolving human wisdom and cutting edge technologies (which I’ve nicknamed “AAI” – Artificial Artificial-Intelligence) will not completely replace the need for in-person care. Our goal is to complement in-person care by building technology platforms and applications that can effectively harness the collective knowledge of medical professionals and help get people access to the most relevant and highest quality information that fits their needs best when they need it most.

Think of the power of combining expert-community created and curated content (like HealthTap) with machine learning and natural language processing algorithms (such as IBM Watson) and with powerful user interfaces to deliver information seamlessly to users anytime, anywhere.

I don’t know about you, but having access to doctors who can respond to my questions at any time would spare me some anxiety and save me a lot of money on co-pays.

Relying on Google alone for my health queries has more than once left me thinking I had a terrifying condition, such as a brain tumor, after searching for information on my symptoms.

The potential for misinformation and inaccuracy is the main reason healthcare is one area where you definitely want a curated, controlled and credible experience with social media. HealthTap just might be it.