Inaugural Health 2.0 Conference Is Harbinger of More to Come

SAN FRANCISCO — A slew of companies have some pretty lofty expectations in interactive health care media, otherwise known as “health 2.0.”

“We want to create an experience that’s basically a for health,” says Chini Krishnan, founder and chief executive of Vimo, an online comparison-shopping site for insurance, health savings accounts, physicians, and dentists.

Others here for a first-of-its-kind conference (Health 2.0) on health 2.0 technologies and user-generated content in health care compared themselves to YouTube, Trip Advisor, and RateItAll — for health care, of course. Sure, some of it is hype for start-up companies, but many believe interactive media are here to stay.

“The Web has fixed a lot of broken industries. We think it’s time to do it with health care,” said Marty Tennenbaum, a pioneer in e-commerce in the early 1990s. Today, Tennenbaum is an investor in several private health 2.0 ventures, including a social and support network called PatientsLikeMe.

“Health 2.0 is just getting beyond being a buzzword,” said conference organizer Matthew Holt, an occasional contributor to Digital Health care & Productivity.

When top-tier “consumer aggregators” like Google, Yahoo, WebMD, and Microsoft — all represented on a conference panel — take note, there’s a pretty good chance it’s more than just a fringe movement, though it’s definitely early in the game.

Holt defined a four-step continuum of health 2.0: user-generated content; users connecting to health care providers; formation of partnerships to reform delivery; and finally, data driving discovery. Most players in this segment are in one of the first two stages.

“Consumers are still having trouble sorting through what’s trustworthy,” offered Google health product marketing manager Missy Krasner. “They need a coach. They need a trusted coach.”

WebMD CEO Wayne Gatinella agreed. “They don’t know enough to trust what they don’t know,” he said. “If we screw up the credibility part, everything else goes away.”

A lot of eyes in the room were on Google, since the company has been struggling to bring a health care product to market. (Notable for his presence at the meeting but his absence from the podium was Adam Bosworth, recently dismissed as corporate vice president and head of Google’s health team.)

Google has been relying on a small team of experts — mostly volunteers — to label health content as part of Google Scholar, which remains in beta more than a year after its debut. (See “Google Co-op for Health Gets Boost from PHR Expert Kibbe.”) “It’s certainly been an experiment,” Krasner said.

Other firms, large and small, are moving ahead with their own plans to improve certain areas of health care with interactive media. No less than half a dozen health-specific search engines made presentations or otherwise had a presence at last week’s San Francisco meeting, including some who believe the “Big Three” of Google, Yahoo, and MSN have lost their focus when it comes to health care.

Steven Krein, CEO of a newly launched search engine called OrganizedWisdom, believes general Web searches have become cluttered with “index spam” because results are indexed by computerized algorithms. “To have the No. 1 result be spam is mind-boggling. I don’t think that’s acceptable in 2007,” Krein said.

In health care, Krein wants a return to Yahoo circa 1996, when people did the indexing. “We believe that people plus algorithms makes better search,” he said.

Health 2.0 may have another parallel to the early days of the Web. “I see a completely fragmented approach,” said Jay Silverstein of Revolution Health, the service created by AOL co-founder Steve Case. “I advise many of you to hook up,” Silverstein told the many start-ups among the nearly 500 people in attendance.

When the second health 2.0 conference comes around next March, the landscape could be markedly different.

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