Need a Doctor? There’s an App for That
Nothing is better at sniffing out inefficiencies than capitalism. In this spirit, a number of upstart companies and social media mavens are trying do for healthcare what Yelp did for restaurants (but never quite pulled off for doctors).
Many of the most successful new companies are built around the idea that finding medical care is a needlessly slow slog. Leveraging the twin disruptive forces of technology and social media can help patients slice through the nonsense to grab better advice and speedier appointments. At least, that’s the theory.
But what of the sticky issue of privacy, you ask? One of the most popular of the new breed of apps has an answer that might surprise you:
Patients aren’t the only ones finding value in the content on PatientsLikeMe. The company makes money selling its users’ data to drugmakers, such as Merck (MRK, Fortune 500) and Novartis (NVS), and other research institutions, like universities. Even with all the privacy laws that regulate patient data, PatientsLikeMe, based in Cambridge, Mass., is able to bundle and release its network’s information because, as Ben Heywood says, “we’re radically open about it. We tell our members exactly what we do with their data, where it’s going, and for what purpose.” And the purpose, they argue, is for the greater good: The data can be used to make better, more targeted drugs and more efficient devices.
That may well be true. There’s no rational reason to resist this sort of underwriting for its own sake if everyone is consenting and it’s all done above board. And there is no question that drugmakers have long struggled with the problem of tracking those uncommon effects and complications they never see in the lab, but which appear with startling regularity in the real world. Maybe a social community like this can help everyone stay in communication long after the FDA its nod of approval.
These networks represent a brave new world, and I invite my patients to share their personal experiences as we go. If we can cut healthcare costs and improve patient education and care with the swipe of a finger, then call me a believer.