Health care entrepreneur Ron Gutman has the long game in mind: “Our mission as a company”–that company being HealthTap, the health question-and-answer service he launched in last September–“is to measurably increase life expectancy of humankind,” he said recently. “I already have use cases now of people who got access through HealthTap and it actually saved their life.”
The point, Gutman emphasizes, is to “democratize” health care, making health information accessible to everyone regardless of education or ability to pay. The question-and-answer function, although wildly successful, is just a first step: Today, HealthTap announced the launch of a Publications feature, which will use the site’s growing network of more than 15,000 U.S.-licensed physicians in good standing to translate the latest medical journal research into readable English.
Gutman explains: “For many, many years, everyone has been thinking, how do we take this huge trove of cutting-edge medical knowledge, deep scientific knowledge, to the availability of the public? Because the frustration is that although this knowledge exists and is available, it’s really not.” Something like 800,000 research papers are published each year in 5,600 peer-reviewed medical journals, and, says HealthTap, it takes around two years for that research to circulate throughout the medical community, and even longer for it to make its way into the popular consciousness. Eliminating that lag is something Gutman’s wanted to do for years, and now with HealthTap, he finally has the critical mass of doctors to do it.
Publications will be integrated into HealthTap’s question-and-answer functionality as well, so that “if a user has a certain condition, and they want to dive deep into the most cutting-edge research,” Gutman says, “they will be able to ask a doctor to help them understand this publication better, and hopefully even [ask] the doctors that wrote the publication.” All in all, the HealthTap team estimates that they’ll be opening up the work of about 125,000 additional physicians–many of whom are research doctors only and don’t have a regular practice–to the health care-consuming public.
“I am personally extremely excited about this feature,” Gutman says. “And the physicians are very excited about it, people here at the company are very excited about it, and the world, I think, will be very excited about it, because it was never available to people before.”
Today also marks the launch of an Expanded Virtual Practice feature, a directory of over a million physicians, where they can manage their public profile, list their publications and specialties, and where patients can go to find their “DocScore,” the rating the site generates for physicians based on their level of participation and quality of their answers.
As for where HealthTap will go next, Gutman says that “global expansion is something that I’m very, very passionate about.” Although he’s not ready to talk about anything specific yet, he will say that there are plans in place to bring the trove of knowledge by now developed, pored over, and commented on on HealthTap to the developing world. “I think, in terms of impact on people’s lives, HealthTap will have even more impact globally than what it will have here in the United States,” Gutman says. “Here, we are more focused on providing better, easier, faster, cheaper access to doctors. [But] more than half the rest of the population of the world doesn’t have access to doctors at all. And I think that in these places, the potential impact of what HealthTap is doing is immense.”