Medical data repository HealthTap, which collects questions from anonymous users and feeds them to a collection of 35,000 licensed doctors, announced Thursday that it will allow users to tag their queries to licensed physicians with even more personal though non-identifying details.
It’s not a seamless, secure universal medical records database, but it may be a step on the way to that ideal.
HealthTap users could previously tag their questions on the platform with keywords and tags but, as of today, they can add attributes such as gender, pre-existing conditions and prescribed medications. This means the site now collects data on three dimensions, rather than two — with the idea being that the more attributes per question, the better contextualized doctors’ answers will be.
Ultimately, the platform is walking a fine line. It is, on the one hand, attempting to feed patients hungry for greater access to reliable medical information online and those who desire to make visits to the doctor’s office more efficient. But, on the other hand, the site must obey stringent privacy laws around patients’ medical data — thus the need for questioners’ to remain fully anonymous.
Users can, for a fee, interact with doctors one-on-one, allowing them to lift the veil and share more about themselves with a physician. But the line is drawn there again at diagnosis. Doctors are not allowed to diagnose the user at any point, either one-on-one or in their public responses.
The project, which started in 2010, incorporated the entire PubMed database in September as a reference for users. And, according to a ticker on the Web site, over 615 million questions have been answered and nearly 3,700 lives saved, a reflection of the letters Gutman says the company has received from users.
A far cry from a seamless and secure universal medical records database, the platform still highlights the inherent power of data divorced from identity. HealthTap seeks to leverage data users are able to provide anonymously to empower the larger community of patients and physicians, making digital health care personal in the vein of Amazon or Netflix.
“I believe that at the end of the day,” said Gutman, “the entity that needs to control the data is not the government, not the physician and not the medical institution. But it’s the user himself.”
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