Health information + Internet

On the one hand, we see a mess:  we see 6.5+ billion people most of which know nothing about managing their health, we see the wasted billions people spend on their health every year (or is it trillions), we see charities spending billions (e.g. Gates Foundation) to improve health, we see the battle between scientifically proven medicine and the persistant superstitions, we see obesity and late night TV, the list goes on.  On the other hand, we see the Internet, free, increasingly robust, growing like a weed to every corner of the globe, fully capable of getting the right information to the right place.  So what gives?  Why is health information on the Internet still so bad 13+ years into this?

Has anyone been on WebMD recently?  Given it’s the #1 medical site (by Comscore, so take it with a grain of salt), I found the experience suprsingly lacking…lacking in depth, readability, clarity, humanity.  Not only does the site navigation and design feel so 1997, so does their unwillingness to give much information other than “consult your physician.”   I was hoping that Revolution Health was going to make a difference, and their interface does scream Web 2.0, but I don’t see them getting much traction, and I heard they are burning $6 million per month.  With deep pockets, strong vision, real passion and a bunch of very capable management, Revolution Health has probably bitten off more than they can chew. 

60% of all medical searches online start at Google, and they do seem to be making some small adjustments to their product that may pay off for users.  (See screen shot)


Right above their results for “common cold,” they let you narrow your search so you have a better chance of avoiding the Spam Sites that are trying to swamp their SEO results.   If they do that, people will certainly get marginally more educated.  But Google, from what they say, are not focused on education as much as they are focused on patient records.  It’s certainly a huge mess deserving of attention, and if they solve it, it would make a big difference.   (That’s also probably a wise strategy for them — letting other companies come up with the great health information sites they can spider and put ads next to.)

So we are still left with the sense that getting good health information to people in a way they can absorb it and use it could have a big benefit to the world.  Could be world changing.  The fact it hasn’t happened could be a result of 1) intractability of the problem, 2) entrenched interests don’t want it to happen, 3) good laws and processes we’ve put in place to stop health fraud are now also stopping us from sharing truly useful health information.  I’m interested to find out which one it is.