What do you do when you’re feeling ill or suddenly experience a mysterious pain?
If you’re like most North Americans, you head to the internet for advice. More than 80% of North Americans go first to the web for medical information. Even doctors rely on Google, according to the Wall Street Journal.
But can you trust what the Internet tells you about that nagging cough or mysterious ache? Not necessarily -- anyone with an axe to grind, an idee fixe about vaccinations or product to sell can put up a website and make it look authoritative and impartial. (The American Academy of Family Physicians has an excellent guide to evaluating web-based health information).
And now there’s Healthism, a new medical website that’s the brainchild of 25-year-old Vancouver doctor Damon Ramsey, a family practice resident at St. Paul’s Hospital and UBC.
Ramsey describes himself as “a physician entrepreneur with a personal vendetta against poorly designed health technology solutions.” Healthism, he says, will be a revolutionary new health and wellness application “which will redefine the way we do preventive health care in North America.”
Healthism differs from other health websites, like webmd.com, because it focuses on quality, not quantity, Ramsey says. All content on the site is reviewed by a medical advisory board to assure credibility, he says. Interactive quizzes help provide personalized information to visitors, who can build up health profiles by registering. Healthism differs from WebMD and similar sites in its intuitive, clean design as well, Ramsey says. “I have an obsession with user-centered design and the user experience.”
Ramsey grew up in Vancouver. A computer enthusiast from an early age, he achieved his Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer certificate when only 12 years old. He studied cognitive systems at UBC and then, armed with “an insatiable thirst for making a change in the world,” he enrolled in medical school at McMaster University, graduating in 2009 as the youngest in his class at age 22.
Damon Ramsey describes himself as "a physician entrepreneur with a personal vendetta against poorly designed health technology solutions".
This background led to the development of Healthism two years ago. “It made perfect sense to my geeky mind to start mimicking a virtual experience which empowers patients and users alike to take control of their own health and learn from interactive resources.”
Many physicians are reluctant to have their patients researching their own information on the web, he claims. “I believe it is the physician's duty to be at the forefront of building an online health experience which we can all embrace, appreciate and use to improve our health literacy.”
Healthism has been active on the web for about a year and is gradually ramping up, Ramsey says. Currently, the site has information about diseases and conditions, symptoms, men’s and women’s health and prevention. It also features “calculators” for BMI, body fat, calcium, target heart rate and calories, and 20 “check-ups”, including colour blindness, Type 2 diabetes, colon cancer and Vitamin D deficiency. The check-ups tell you your risk level for the particular condition and a list of recommendations, such as to take Vitamin D supplements to help prevent colon cancer.
Healthism’s site has many social media aspects, including lists of the most popular check-ups and articles, personalized advice, and Twitter, Facebook and Google+ links. Healthism also has a Facebook app, which embeds the site’s health quizzes, surveys and check-ups.
However, Ramsey says: “We sprinkle ‘social’ where it appears appropriate, rather than throwing in plenty of features which have no place.” For example, if you take a check-up on Healthism which asks about your risk factors for diabetes, at the end of it, you can share the check-up (not the results) via Twitter or email. You can also save a pdf of the results for your own records or to discuss with your doctor. “Never do we allow the sharing of personal health information. Instead we like to allow for our users to improve the health of their friends and family utilizing social media and sharing technologies.”
Healthism’s business model differs from other health sites, Ramsey says. “The traditional online health business model is very much based on a primitive and, in my opinion, inappropriate model of non-contextual advertising. This opens up the door to conflict of interest, as it is questionable whether corporations are the best authorities to be advising us on our health care when they have a vested interest in selling their products.”
Instead, Ramsey says, Healthism will focus on linking users to appropriate service providers and products depending on their afflictions, problems and frustrations. “All leads will be approved by our medical advisory board and focus on quality care above all else,” he says. Healthism will also license its “health dashboard” to other enterprises, he says.
Future plans include an iPhone/Android app that will provide screening check-ups for health problems and then give users location and context-based recommendations.
Healthism is very much a work in progress, with new articles and features being added gradually. The number of users is also building gradually as well, but Ramsey is happy with the progress: “We're showing some extremely reassuring traction and positive results in initial user growth. It feels great for our work from our alpha/beta phase to start getting validated in the public's eyes” as Healthism leads the way towards “an era of interactive and personalized health.”