DrMelon, Startups Rush Into Mobile Health

Dr. Sang Hoon Woo is an internist at Stanford Medical School who had grown frustrated listening to patients’ tales of trying to find health information online. When he read about Steve Jobs’s misguided attempts to cure his cancer using homeopathic means found on the Web, Dr. Woo decided he had to help his profession reach consumers in the online (and mobile) age. So—like the folks who created WebMD or Dr. Koop or myriad other online medical resources—Woo built DrMelon to get trusted medical information to consumers in an easily digestible form that’s accessible from any device. He’s one of several entrepreneurs trying to bring medicine into the current, connected age.

DrMelon (Woo was eating melon at the time he conceived the site, plus the domain name was available) was created last year, and Woo is currently raising money to take the site to a real beta within the next few months. While he says he wants DrMelon to be the Apple of health care for consumers, what he’s doing is more akin to creating a destination site of curated information for medical apps and information, which might make it closer to a prospective iTunes or App Store of medical information.

The site currently offers curated search, videos, forums, and a place for patients to ask questions. Eventually it will contain apps recommended by doctors. Because he’s hoping patients will bring DrMelon into their doctors’ offices, the Web site has the same navigation and features as the mobile app. But Woo isn’t alone in thinking he has the cure for inaccessible medical information.

DrMelon has similarities to Happtique, a startup spun out of the Greater New York Hospital Association Ventures. Happtique is currently testing an app store designed for physicians and trying to develop a seal of approval for medical apps. In both cases, doctors are seeking to help consumers sift through the morass of health information on the Web and eventually to help build tools that can make it easier to find trusted answers to such basic questions as drug interactions and the efficacy of certain therapies. This comes in response to spammy search results that invariably pop up when someone queries a medical condition via Google. It’s also an attempt to help consumers find useful information in response to a single question, as opposed to a glut of questionable general information.

Rx for Trusted Medical Information?

For example, I broke my pinky toe this weekend. When I searched DrMelon and Google using the same term (“broken pinky toe”), the top result for both came from the same site. Subsequent results diverged considerably, with Google delivering links to spam and Yahoo Answers, which can deliver less-than-trustworthy advice. That may be helpful, but DrMelon and additional curated sites might become extremely valuable if they can help create a searchable, Quora-like network of expertise around medicine, in which consumers can ask questions and obtain quality responses from the community. Still, there’s a world of difference between asking someone online to name favorite cloud computing startups and asking someone if that weird lump you feel in your armpit might be cancer.

It’s not yet clear if a business model lies in providing trusted information from doctors to consumers outside the physician’s office. Happtique wants developers to pay to have apps reviewed by physicians in order to secure its stamp of approval. Woo will wait and see about revenue; he runs ads on search results he curates after Google generates them. Given this and a rash of other medical startups—plus the creation of the health-focused incubator Rock Health—many people see an opportunity to bring the Web into the connected age. The route to success remains uncertain.

For now, innovation is happening around the edges, as consumers play around with data-gathering devices and share personal health challenges with friends. Employers are involved insofar as they buy health plans that try to entice people into social programs that promote good lifestyle decisions via gamification and further social carrots. As Woo and the hospitals working with rival Happtique are discovering, there’s a large gray area to be defined around apps, the Web, and business models .

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