Patients and the Web: Creating online communities of care
Claudia M. Caruana reports on how HealCam.com is trying to empower patients onlineBy Nov 29, 2011 on
It’s 3 a.m. and you can’t sleep because you are worried about your diabetes. Is there another kindred soul who might want to talk with you about your concerns now? If you check with HealCam.com, there just might be.
Available since the summer of 2010, HealCam.com is a free video chat service, sometimes called chat roulette, letting patients speak with other patients who may have similar medical conditions and concerns. It is the brainchild of two physicians, Michael Ostrevsky, an anesthesiologist based outside of San Francisco, and Nicholas Genes, an emergency room specialist at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
HealCam.com is an offshoot of Medgadget, LLC, an independent blog site about medical devices and tools founded by the two physicians and Ostrevsky's brother, Gene. It is a privately held company.
What people particularly like about HealCam.com says Ostrevsky “is that no registration is required, and you can see with whom you are chatting, or you can choose not to.”
According to Ostrevsky, the site can be likened to a large meeting room, where you can go from person to person and chat about whatever with whomever. At present, several topic rooms already are available, including weight loss, kidney and urinary disorders, diabetes, cancer, bones and joints. Several others, he says, will be coming online in the future.
The need for information
HealCam.com is one of several websites that have been developed recently to meld information technology and medicine for consumers and patients. One of the better known is patientslikeme.com, based in Cambridge, Mass. and developed by three Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers, brothers Benjamin and James Heywood, and their friend, Jeff Cole.
The website, which went live in 2004, was inspired by the Heywood family’s need for information when another brother, Stephen, developed ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) at age 29. One difference between patientslikeme.com and HealCam.com is that HealCam.com does not require users to register on the site.
When Ostrevsky was designing the HealCam.com platform, he believed people would be interested in discussing what ails them, what worked for their health problems, and what did not. “Although we initially thought the service would attract young people, it wasn't the case,” he says. “With so many middle-age and older people able to use computers, we've found that the site is particularly of interest and helpful to them, many of whom have medical issues.”
A feature about HealCam.com on ABC News increased traffic “tremendously, sometimes reaching as many as 2,000 conversations in a day,” Ostrevsky says. But the number of visits has dropped considerably, probably because “we have no budget for advertising or publicizing the website,” according to Ostrevsky.
It is not unusual to have a lone person on the site, waiting for someone else to show up in the designated chat area. “HealCam.com is a concept whose time has come,” Ostrevsky stresses. “We'd just like more people coming to it.”
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