When it comes to researching illnesses and symptoms online, the information age has its advantages and disadvantages. While the internet sometimes allows us to better understand our medical conditions and make informed decisions, it often leads to unnecessary concern, erroneous self-diagnosis and even false hope.
“When people get sick, they now become the researcher. They start looking for things that can help them understand the illness,” Tal Givoly, CEO of Israeli startup Medivizor, tells NoCamels. “But there is so much information out there, and finding that which is relevant to you is the challenge. If you do a search on diabetes, you’ll find a hundred million results! A hundred million! It is like finding a needle in a haystack.”
According to Dr. Oren Fuerst, executive chairman of Medivizor, it is not only the patients who suffer from this deluge of information; clinicians have a hard time too. Fuerst says doctors constantly have to deal with patients who believe they know best as a result of doing their own online research.
Referring to the experience of Professor Steve Kaplan, another member of the Medivizor team, Fuerst tells us: “Patients would come to his clinic and say ‘Well I know exactly what I need. I read on Google that XYZ.’ The clinician would reply after reading the material, ‘It is great that you are reading all that stuff, but the research you are showing me relates to a woman in her 50s and you’re a man in your 70s, and the stage of you cancer is slightly different from the one in the reference’ etc.”
Too much information
Fuerst feels that patients have too much information at hand which is often not relevant to them, leading to false hopes. It also becomes a frustrating experience because the clinician has to read through all the material the patient brings in order to find out whether it is relevant.
That’s where Medivizor comes in, by offering relevant information on the latest medical research to patients. Medivizor does this with what it calls a “special mix” of information obtained through crowdsourcing; links with medical experts worldwide and other relevant content providers.
Making the data reachable and understandable
Givoly says this repository of information is not enough, however. The information also has to be comprehensible, he says. “Even if you get the information, how can you understand it? The way it’s written [means that] you have to be an expert in the field to understand it. Knowing English is certainly not enough.”
Medivizor’s solution is to incorporate tests such as the Flesch–Kincaid readability formula to determine how understandable a piece of material is. If the material is not easily understandable, an understandable summary that links to the original material is written up to ensure that the patient knows that there is new scientific material that is relevant to them.
Medivizor users or their loved ones have to fill up a questionnaire so that the systems can recognize their medical condition. Once the questionnaire has been filled, the user can create an account and log in to the Medivizor interface, which is somewhat like a newsfeed. The user then receives updates that are categorized with new pieces of research; explanations about the illness; a notification about a relevant clinical trial, etc.
For now, Medivizor is only available for breast cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer and diabetes, but will soon be adding melanoma and lymphoma to the list. Users can sign up and request to join Medivizor, but registration is currently invite-only, as it is still in the testing phase before full launch.
“Information 85 times more relevant”
According to COO Ronen Keinan, the results so far are highly encouraging. “We’ve got a 85 percent match for relevancy, so [we went] from 99 percent irrelevant [when not using Medivizor] to 85 percent being relevant. And each time someone gets something irrelevant we ask why. We have this small link called ‘helpful’, much like a Facebook ‘like’ and people are actually clicking it and adding comments.”
CEO Givoly sees Medivizor as a means of empowering patients who want to take ownership over their condition. “We try to improve the doctor-patient relationship. Instead of bringing redundant print-outs that are not relevant and wasting the precious 15 minutes you have with your specialist, you send them in advance one article that is very relevant. That way the doctor is very aware of what is happening before meeting you and you don’t need to surprise tem. It is all very professional.”
According to the company, Medivizor has also received positive feedback from doctors who value the relevant research that patients point them to. In Fuerst’s words: “The patient can surprise the doctor with the latest and greatest, that the doctor simply didn’t have time to read.”
“80 percent of healthcare spending is on Services”
Medvision is currently debating different revenue streams. “If you look at healthcare spending worldwide, it is roughly 10 percent of the GDP in every country. In the US it is more than 17 percent and in Europe, around 8 percent depending on the country,” Dr Fuerst points out. “80 percent [of the spending] is on services, [and not] on the pharmaceutical industry. So by bringing a focal point for people involved in that service, the patients and the caregivers, we believe we can create value.”
One possible revenue stream, Fuerst says, is matching clinical trials of relevance to Medvisor patients. According to Fuerst, “it’s known in the pharmaceutical industry, in the medical devices industry, that one of the main inhibitors of drugs entering the market is the [difficulty] of recruiting patients for clinical trials.” He stresses that everything will be done with the permission of the patient and that patient privacy is of the utmost importance.
At this stage, adds Fuerst, Medivizor is focused on its goal of providing relevant medical information for the patient and not on recruiting people for clinical trials.
Photo: Medivizor website screenshot