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Healthism: building health literacy through the web

Damon Ramsey wants to lead the way to a new era of interactive and personalized health.

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).

There are reliable sources for health information on the web. Health Canada has a comprehensive (if user-unfriendly site). The Mayo Clinic and WebMD are both popular sources of 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.”

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