An Interview of @EndreJofoldi of HealthMash

The Web abounds with health care information (good, bad, ugly). In fact, for all practical purposes we have an infinite abundance of content on the web. And this abundance has produced a scarcity of meaning, relevance and reliability. So any attempts to provide searchers of content are welcome efforts.

THE WORLD WIDE HEALTH WEB

HealthMash is one of the newer search engines for health care content and media by a team from Hungary and the US. HealthMash returns an array of finds and displays them within categories. Here in the US, most of the Web products that receive the most attention come out of Silicon Valley. What goes unnoticed is just how much remarkable work gets done around the world. Hungary, for example, has traditionally had one of the highest per capita rates of mathematicians. So it’s encouraging to see these products being developed internationally. And in the arena of health care and social software, Dr. Bertalan Mesko ( @Berci on Twitter) is doing amazing things with ScienceRoll.

HealthMash enables users to search generally, or ask the engine to return results garnered from Twitter or for Video for Images or Drugs and other contextualizing formats. Here’s how HealthMash presents Cystic Fibrosis within its Clinical Trials results (click to enlarge):

HealthMash Search Result for Cystic Fibrosis

Contextualizing information is an important process, especially since we now have so many sources of potential information. I won’t review the reliability of the results here, but I recommend test driving the interface. Another service that attempts to bring context and curation to health care search results is iTriageHealth.

For now, I’ll let Endre Jofoldi of HealthMash (@EndreJofoldi on Twitter) explain more about the product he and his team are working on. My hope is that these interviews engender entrepreneurial interest in the what I’m starting to call the Health Web. By the way: If you’re a developer and seek funding, I recommend following Robert Scoble’s  Twitter List of Venture Capitalists. Yes, Twitter has its uses. :)

THE INTERVIEW

You seem to be passionate about the Web and building custom search engines. Tell us about yourself – where are you from, what you do and what got you interested in health care and web technologies and communities.

The HealthMash “virtual team” in the US and Hungary consists of experts in medical informatics, computational linguists and software developers. Our individual team members have worked on many health related projects at the National Institutes of Health and the National Library of Medicine, thus we have first hand familiarity with the challenges of the health arena. Although most of our team are relatively young and healthy, a couple of the “old timers” have had enough health problems themselves and in their families, to have special empathy for all patients. So as you can see, we are naturally interested in web technologies and health communities.

HealthMash, which bills itself as a Revolutionary Health Knowledge Base and Semantic Search Engine, piqued my interest. What inspired you to build this type of search  engine? What does HealthMash do that other health search engines don’t? What technologies are under the hood?  What are your plans for HealthMash?

There are thousands of good health sites on the Web, like Medlineplus.gov and the MayoClinic,com, however they are limited in their scope and coverage. There are also tens of thousands of sites that offer questionable or harmful health advice. At the same time, we also know that even the best health practitioners can’t keep up with all the new developments in biomedical research and apply all that knowledge to the individual needs of patients. Our inspiration was our own health concerns and the inevitable health problems of our families and friends and fellow human beings, to envision a web site that offers the most comprehensive and most reliable health information to enable informed personal health decisions:

  • Thus, our goal with HealthMash has been to interpret the meaning of health related queries and, using our proprietary semantic search algorithms and bring together all kinds of potentially relevant information for the user (trusted health information, News, clinical trials, the research literature etc.)
  • Another important goal has been to support user exploration and discovery. HealthMash facilitates serendipity and discovery via our automatically generated  Health Knowledge Base which contains millions of relevant associations between health concerns, treatments, drugs and alternative medicine approaches, to name a few.
  • It is the sum of all of the content and technological innovations “under the hood”, and our passion for promoting healthy living, that distinguishes us from the competition.

Do you see it primarily as a stand alone search engine or are you considering developing social features into the service?

First I would like to turn this question into a bit different direction. HealthMash can be utilized by other search services. Our Explore and Discover section is also available through an API for third parties to embed it into their medical databases and search systems. To answer your question, developing social features into HealthMash has been planned from day one, but not implemented yet. As a matter of fact, our Hungarian health sites already have some social features in them (http://varoszoba.hu means “Waiting Room” and http://dokim.hu means “My Doc” ).

What other projects are you currently working on? If you had the necessary resources to build your dream health care technology/application, what would it look like and what problems would it seek to solve?

HealthMash keeps us pretty busy, given that it is in beta stage. And of course we also have to make a living, so we are working on “bread and butter” custom search and federated search engine projects for paying customers both in Europe and in the USA. If we had the necessary resources – and frankly we are hoping that a major player or venture capital firm will provide those resources to us sooner or later – our “dream” health care application would be to add sufficient intelligence to HealthMash to be able to answer any health related question and do it in all languages and all countries of the world.

Thank you, Endre. Keep us up-to-date. And good luck to your team. For more, you can always follow  Endre on Twitter.

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Healthcare’s Google-Facebook-Twitter Platform

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

Can’t we just have one place on the web where all of us around the world can congregate to acquire reliable health care content, connect patients with each other, have conversations, trade experiences and otherwise partake in the vastness of health care?

That certainly is a dream – an idea which many patients and families and professionals ponder. After all, Google, Facebook and Twitter respectively demonstrate the power of Search, Social Media and Real-time Connection to accomplish a whole host of objectives. What if we had a health care version of such a triad, unified into one platform? Is it do-able? Or, perhaps more importantly, is it necessary?

A GINORMOUS WEB WITH NO CENTER

As tempting as it may be to have a mega health care social platform, I think such a hope is wrecked by the reality of the Web. The Web is an ever-expanding confluence of machines and people and protocols and media. Like a consciousness, it has no Center, no single brain cell that we can point to and say Here it is, the center of our mind! And yet, like a consciousness, it produces the seamless experiences of awareness and connection and action which we view through our browsers and mobile devices and wherever else the Web infiltrates.

Perhaps the very model for any Web platform for health care communities of content and people lies right in the artful sciences beneath health care itself: the evolutionary underpinnings of networks of the tiny cellular gadgets that supply our lives. Yes, our bodies do have central nervous systems, but life owes itself to the vastly distributed cascading of events which aren’t necessarily centrally-controlled. That is, after all, the wonder and power of our universe’s serendipity. The web of life may be metaphor for the web we started spinning years ago.

So I wonder if our primary challenge in weaving a Health Care Web is understanding the nature of evolutionary systems. That perhaps we need to overcome our linear and strict architectural ways of thinking and building, and seek organic views of the Web.

Historically, in our efforts to wage war against dangerous bacteria and viruses, we have taken a decidedly mechanical approach: discover a vulnerability and attack it. It works, for a time. But then subtle mutations succeed and replicate and the vulnerabilities of our tiny enemies become strengths and we start to lose the war again.

So just as we may need radically different approaches to infectious diseases – approaches which advance natural processes versus stemming them – so too may we need a radical re-think in how we work with the Web. Rather than hoping to overlay a single giant complex that dominates the landscape like a Big Mother, we aught to consider the power of local networks and communities, learn to harness de-centralization and discover how to cull order out of chaos.

In many regards, we already are doing these things. Those of us who use media like Twitter have learned to appreciate the value of curation and we’re always seeking out and playing with toys which help us streamline and enhance our consumption and production of information. Patients seeking health-related content or community similarly need ways of finding the right channels.

Perhaps, then, a key feature of health care online is providing media which improve the skills of patients in how to best derive order of out of chaos and separate verifiable fact from dangerous idiocy. How to accomplish such feats? One way is through individual, localized efforts on the part of patients, providers, technologists, librarians, entrepreneurs – charged with large boluses of initiative and courage.

ALL HEALTH CARE IS LOCAL

What we may need at the large scale isn’t a giant Google-Facebook-Twitter mashup for healthcare. Maybe what we need are media and tools which connect social graphs of people and databases and communities; which enable face-to-face communities which can be weaved back into the Web; which give permissions to patients and family members to port their data however they see fit; which enable providers to be bright facets at the critical nodes of key connections; which integrate emerging technologies and re-mash them into usable interfaces for expedient and curated information.

The fact about online health care communities is that they are, well, communities. Which is to say that their success depends on the particular dynamics and values of the communities. A service which offers forums for different health-related topics may house an amazing Diabetes group but fall short on Schizophrenia. Furthermore, patients and family members experience illnesses in their own unique ways: what may be a great community for someone with breast cancer may be ineffective (or even dangerous) for another.

We have many ways to go with the Health Care Web. We can’t necessarily busy ourselves with one silver bullet. So I offer one tip to the general public: advocate for change at the local level, using public social media to inspire passionate tribes of talented change agents. We can do that much now, without having to wait for the FDA or some other governmental agency to figure out how to hit the update button on Twitter, let alone how to piece together a Health Care Web.

If we can’t get our own family physician to connect with us on just one social medium, how can we connect the multitude of patients and providers globally?

What do you think? Is a Google-Facebook-Twitter Platform of Health Care achievable? Is it even necessary? Perhaps most importantly: is it something we should even desire, or fear?

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Power Dynamics & Virtual Health: Protecting Professional Boundaries in an Unbounded Web

Virtual Health – however that’s defined – has become a hot topic lately, especially in light of the rapidly evolving two-way real-time Web. Power dynamics – the interplays between patient and provider – must be protected in order to safeguard patient rights and protect their dignity, privacy and well-being. There’s more to virtualized practice than may be apparent on the surface.

Here are some thoughts, including an explanation of what I am (half-humorously) calling the “intimacy-boundary membrane”. [Link to video]

Power Dynamics & Virtual Health: Protecting Professional Boundaries in an Unbounded Web from Phil Baumann on Vimeo.

Patients are increasingly demanding online ways of interacting with their providers. As social media evolve, improve and proliferate, the ePatient movement will continue to expand and the healthcare industry will have to develop ways to meet the demand.

This movement, however, will have to ensure that it does not overlook the important behaviors all health care providers must express. It will also have to mature so that we aren’t left with a virtual health care landscape that is little more than a circus of amateurs. Experience matters more than content.

But social media is also rapidly shortening the spaces of intimacy and boundaries between people. This means that as health care professionals interactively enter the Web, the tension between intimacy and boundaries will increase.

We could say that there exists a safety zone between intimacy and professional boundary. These zones have traditionally been worked out for in-person clinical relationships. Online, however, we have a long way until we establish a collective understanding of how these technologies affect our virtual health care experience.

Since the space is shrinking to a thin wall, I’ve decided to call this problem the intimacy-boundary membrane. How do we go about protecting that membrane? Is this metaphor useful? You tell me.

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How Candles & Tacks Can Help Us Re-Think Economics, Healthcare & Everything Else

Daniel Pink recently gave a TED talk about the insights into motivation gleaned from new research into the  Candle Problem (read up on it before continuing). Functional Fixedness is a common problem with the way our brains are wired. The Candle Problem, and the novel research Daniel Pink discusses, demonstrates how the fundamental assumptions that we make underpin our ways of thinking. Often, they undermine our efforts to make a better word.

[ted id=618]

When thinking about how we accomplish our mutual goals, what assumptions are we making? How many books and theories and political lines of thought rest on assumptions that were never vetted via scientific challenges?

How many fields could this new understanding of our motivations serve better?

  • Could we work towards a better economic system?
  • Could our provision of health care be vastly improved?
  • Could Marketing become more human and effective?
  • Could organizations develop more creative environments for their employees?

Ideas are incredibly influential – for good or ill. How many of the ideas we have in our heads are misleading us in almost everything we do? Counter-intuition is a difficult but important skill to develop.

Whether it’s Health Care or Social Media or the growth of our Finance Sector or Economic Theory, don’t we owe it to ourselves to vigilantly seek out and question the basic assumptions we make?

How can you use these observations about the Candle Problem to improve (or radically upturn) what you do with your business or your life?

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Healthcare Technology Isn’t Social…Yet

Healthcare professionals are technologists. Social media involves technology. But there’s a substantial gap between the general public’s use of social media and the Healthcare industry’s presence along the spectrum of social networking spaces. Why? Shouldn’t health care professionals be on the leading edge of online services and community-engagement?

Here’s a short video giving a partial explanation for the gap. (The second video is a bonus. for my  #hcmktg followers):

Patients deserve the best kind of healthcare in the world: the Web is part of our world – in fact it’s fast becoming the biggest part of our world. Amateur health care is a dangerous trend – therefore, it’s critical that healthcare professionals work extra hard to establish best practices for online transactions. And that can only be done by healthcare professionals extending their role from clinical technologists to social technologists.

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Hospital CEO Compensation…A Comment On

A vector image of :Image:Capitalismlogo.
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John G. Self wrote a post today concerning executive compensation among hospitals. For technical reasons I was unable to leave a comment, so I’m leaving it here. It’s an important topic, and one that certainly stirs passion, especially in the wake of the collapse of financial institutions last fall. Read John’s post and then read my reply:

John,

Well-articulated post and I agree with the general sentiment concerning the recruitment and retention of executives with talent and vision and incorruptible commitment to stakeholders.

Yes, there is a back-lash to executive compensation: some of it merited, some of it uninformed, some of it part of the scapegoating mechanism invoked in any crisis.

Yes, CEOs have it tough. But you know who also have it tough? Nurses. Doctors. We aught to include the compensation for nurses in your argument as well: you can have the best CEO in the world running a hospital, but it’s for naught if the nursing staff isn’t compensated well. If I were the CEO of a hospital and my nurses weren’t compensated well, I wouldn’t be asking for a raise for myself until they and other staff received the compensation, resources, support and respect they deserve.

I also think that too often “qualified CEO” means high-paid CEO. Over the last 20-30 years, many companies entered a mad race for the “best and brightest” and so they settled on compensation as the way to attract that talent. But there’s always diminishing marginal returns: a CEO who was paid $250,000 per year yesterday isn’t going to perform twice as good if his salary goes up to $500,000. Boards of Directors need to get away from that way of thinking and get more creative. After all, they’re beholden to shareholders and its their right and duty to make their companies places executives would love to lead.

Yes, compensation is important. But so is knowing that the work that’s done is meaningful and something worth pursuing in its own right. If it isn’t, then what you are left with aren’t talented executive leaders. Instead, you’re left with overpaid, mediocre and unpassionate MBA grads.

It’s unfortunate that we permitted executives in the financial sector to abandon the backbone of capitalism (investing in the long-term) for the belly of insatiety (short-term gain). And now CEOs in all other sectors will feel heat from the public.

True executives lead. They invest in trust, they sell hope and they share the wealth accrued by the communities they lead. The more CEOs do that, the more likely the public will once again entrust them to execute the noblest tasks of capitalism. When that happens, the compensation will be a pleasant side-effect.

Until then, CEOs will have to do what the rest of us must now do: work harder, be more creative than ever before, exercise financial discipline and aim to be remarkable for remarkability’s sake.

// ShareThis

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Health Care Privacy: Is It Worth Fighting For?

Is the right to Privacy the right war in the 21st Century or is it Dignity? It’s hard to abandon the ideas we grew up with. It’s harder still to deal with those ideas when they turn on you. You and I grew up in a culture that has highly valued privacy. It certainly is an important value. But the web is changing our ability to maintain privacy. In health care, it will become increasingly expensive to maintain patient privacy. Our policies on health care (eg. HIPAA) can actually hinder our right to privacy and undermine progressive efforts to improve health care.

So: is our right to health care worth fighting for? At what point do we decide that other rights may be more important to defend?

I’m not suggesting that we devalue our privacy. In light of the direction we are headed with exponential technological changes, we will need a re-think of which of our values are worth fighting for. I think the right to Dignity is a fight worth fighting for, perhaps even more important in this century than Privacy.

What do you think? Is our focus on privacy the wrong focus? Is it time that we challenged our assumptions and values about privacy? Exercise your right to speak.

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2.0 Is the Wrong Number in Healthcare 2.0

A patient having his blood pressure taken by a...
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Is healthcare important. Is it one of the most critical industries? If it is, why is it so behind the project referred to as ‘Web 2.0’? Why should healthcare be so exceptional an industry as to be stuck in another century?

I think we’ll have to abandon the numeric system when referring to new versions of the Web, especially when formulating applications within the healthcare industry. There’s really no ‘Healthcare 1.0’ (whatever it was, it was a dissappointment). So why bother with a 2.0? Why not just settle with Healthcare?

The goal of healthcare is healthcare, not social media. The current system in the United States is so horribly deranged that we we need enormous investments to heal it. Internet technologies and social networking applications for patients and professinals certainly will help in the area of management. But it won’t travel too far in revamping infrastructure.

I’d love to see more healthcare facilities provide more intelligent and usable online interfaces with their communities. Right now, that’s the kind of servicing Web 2.0 can offer, such as:

  • A process for updating the community (via blogs)
  • A process for giving voice to the community
  • Updated information on patient care (e.g. online discharge instructions)
  • A portal for building support groups for patients and family members

The list can go on. HIPAA certainly gets in the way and will need to be repealed or revamped in a more intelligent way. Dignity shouldn’t be a pretext for industrial secrecy. Web 2.0 won’t change that. Good old fashioned political rage can.

Web 2.0 won’t get to healthcare. A whole new iteration needs to be integrated. Unfortunately, Healthcare 1.0 is going to be here for longer than it should. Sadly, we might even see Healthcare 0.5 coming our way. Or -2.0 if we keep screwing things up.

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Healthcare Is America’s Achilles Heal

Is the bailout crisis bad? Yes. Will our economy get worse. Yes. Will it get better? Yes. When and how is hard to say. For all of the panic over the bailout crisis, nothing could sink our economy more than healthcare. Healthcare is our Achilles Heal.

Our healthcare system just isn’t right. It’s a Frankenstein of perverse corporate incompetence and socialist ignorance. If you can figure out novel ways to deliver better healthcare, you could create a lucrative business for yourself and provide a remarkable benefit to your country. In 2006, over $2 Trillion pierced the heal. The arrows will keep flying.

Ajax carrying the body of Achilles. Attic black-figure lekythos, ca. 510 BC. From Sicily.
Image via Wikipedia

A time like this is when marketing breakthroughs arrive. Nothing sets the creative mind on fire as much as the adrenaline of doom. Some people thrive on it, others exhaust themselves. The health of our nation is in jeopardy. If you’re smart and ambitious, you might help to save it.

If you’re a social media marketer, consider targeting the healthcare industry. (The pharmaceutical industry will need you to figure out how to transition from the age of mass communication to mass connection.)

I’m working on a little project to set things in motion. A different approach. I hope you have a little patience. I think there’s a way to protect our Republic’s Achilles Heal. An ebook will be coming out to help spur a new kind of movement.

If you’re new to my blog, consider subscribing for updates on my forthcoming ebook on healthcare. If you’re already a subscriber, thank you. I hope my ebook rewards your faith…and your health.

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Healthcare Has No Shortage of Blogging Content!

personal health information - the wrkshop    

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There are many health care professionals who don’t blog. Some don’t blog because they’re cool people who just aren’t nerdy enough to blog. At least until they figure out that blogging isn’t what MSM makes it out to be.

Others, however, are concerned about the liability consequences of using social media and they believe that shuts out what’s most important (Beth’s blog is worth a drop into your reader.)

I understand that perspective but I don’t agree with it. The healthcare industry perhaps offers more interesting blogging content than any other topic.

There might be a nursing shortage but there’s no shortage of things to blog about the healthcare industry.

WHAT HEALTHCARE BLOGGING CAN BE

Healthcare blogging isn’t about compromising patient or coworker dignity and confidence. It’s just common sense not to blog personal and confidential information. There’s more to it than that. If you’re a stunad, you’re on your own.

Here are some off-the-cuff examples of what healthcare bloggers can cover:

  • The economics of healthcare (e.g. exploring the elasticity of demand and supply curves of various healthcare services)
  • The need for appropriate healthcare technologies
  • The success and failures of good and bad HIT systems
  • The growing shortage of willing nurses in the profession
  • The growing shortage of family physicians entering practice
  • Mentoring the next generation of healthcare workers
  • Discussing the day-to-day problems facing health care workers (generalizations will do fine)
  • Emphasizing the strengths of the healthcare system and highlighting its weaknesses
  • Covering political discussions about healthcare reform
  • Debating the proper roles of private enterprises and governments in healthcare provision
  • Providing high-quality, up-to-date content for practitioners
  • Providing a sharable platform for the progress of on-going research projects
  • Providing regular, clinically accurate and practical medical knowledge
  • Contributing proposals on how to improve healthcare
  • Healthcare fiction is an un-tapped blogging genre (no shortage of inspiration)
  • Hammering the need for HIPPA and liability reform
  • Educating the public on the need to protect their privacy AND the potential benefits releasing their stories to the public in a dignified context

The list can go on for miles. If you have topics to add, type in the comments below (and get a Disqus account if you haven’t already). Each step has liability implications, of course. Hurdles are meant to be jumped. It’s hard work. So is blogging. Get over it!

HEALTHCARE BLOGGING IS NECESSARY

Healthcare imposes more limitations on public discussion on certain matters. By no means, however, do those limitations preclude intelligent, creative, insightful dialogue. In fact, the blogging platform is a powerful way to raise public awareness.

Healthcare blogging is a specialized niche and requires extra skills that most other blogging niches need to succeed.

My advice for healthcare professionals who are discouraged from blogging because of liability matters is to forget about blogging the details of confidential experiences. Those details, interesting as they may be, are not at all the foundation of consciousness-expansion.

It’s more important to find the meanings of those experiences, connect those meanings to the public at large, and convey relevant opinions and information.

Public discussion certainly would benefit from the insight gained from colorful illustrations. Then again, the public had no idea about every gory detail involved in our visit to the moon. The public still supported the mission and we got there.

Time will tell if we accomplish for healthcare what we accomplished for inter-planetary travel. I sincerely hope that we get healthcare right. Blogging is a small part of getting right. But it’s a part.

HEALTHCARE WILL EVOLVE INTO ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT BLOG NICHES

In the meantime, if you want to become a healthcare blogger, use your brain, your imagination, your passion, your dreams. Work hard to say something meaningful to the public. Just because you can’t talk about that fecal impaction and the exploding colostomy bag, doesn’t mean you have nothing to say.

Don’t be discouraged by the limitations. In fact, use them to offer high-quality, interesting and socially-redeeming online content.

You who deeply care about using the web to improve healthcare: things aren’t going to change without your voice.

Blog on!

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