New Technologies for Patient-Physician Interaction at Medicine 2.0

Social media options growing for health

By Ming Guo

November 15, 2011 | PALO ALTO—What if you had access to the advice of a real doctor, anytime, anywhere? Better yet, what if the advice was tailored to your personal situation? A web-based medical consultation company, HealthTap, is leading the way in bridging the communication gap among patients and physicians.

At the recent Medicine 2.0 conference* held at Stanford University, Ron Gutman, founder and CEO of HealthTap, announced the enrollment of 5,000 physicians in his online medical consultation platform. Coming from a family of physicians, Gutman strongly advocates “interactive health”—helping patients reach physicians, which in turn helps physicians “do good in the world.”

“Medicine is more than 50% art,” he said. “Better information is not better health. The idea is not to finish everything on the Internet, but to find information, reduce anxiety, and interact with more people in the process of health care.”

While striving to have the most user-friendly interface, the key strength of the platform lies in the strong informatics technology operating behind the scenes. The company has developed robust ontologies to organize medical knowledge in a way that is both flexible and easily extended to different disease verticals.

“This ontology at the back-end helps to direct the right question to the right doctor, learn about the patient, and make answers tailored to the patient,” said Gutman.

Leveraging the network effect of social media, the platform allows physicians around the world to share their most up-to-date information. Those whose information is most agreed upon receive higher scores, which helps establish a better online reputation.

Although the current platform does not allow 1-on-1 private consultations, HealthTap is in the process of creating a more secure HIPAA-compliant environment to allow physician-patient interactions.

Around the Bay Area, companies integrating health information with social networks seem to be booming. is designed to “push the envelope even further by developing the world’s first effective social network custom-built to inspire lifestyle changes by transforming advice into action,” said CEO Damon Ramsey.

Another online platform for patient-to-patient information sharing in the Crohn’s and Colitis community is Its founder, Sean Ahrens, talked about “demoing Crohnology.” After the conference, his blog post about was viewed by more than 15,000 people overnight. “There is clearly a pent-up need by patients around the globe for a site like Crohnology,” Ahrens said.

In the “Medicine 2.0” era, information-empowered patients will take charge of their own health care within the ever more connected physician-patient network. While issues like reimbursement may take time to be sorted out, Medicine 2.0 is nevertheless giving more attention to “care” in the health care equation, and putting the individual back into personalized health care.  

*Medicine 2.0, Stanford University, September 16-18, 2011
This article also appeared in the November-December 2011 issue of Bio-IT World magazine. Subscribe today!