Magazine article Marketing

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: Healthy Potential

Magazine article Marketing

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: Healthy Potential

Article excerpt

Online profiles, user-review sites and decision-support software are set to revolutionise healthcare.

More than 40% of the UK adult population now banks online, while about 26m of us use Facebook. Checking our profile online has become a part of everyday life.

Now a US-based venture has thousands of customers checking their health online, updating their profiles to participate in research, and making contact with relatives they could only know about because, at some stage, both of them spat in a mail-order test tube.

23andMe's ambition is to become the world's trusted source of personal genetic information. For a few hundred pounds, consumers can buy a health or ancestry pack from the company website. It sends out a spittoon that they fill and send back; 23andMe then analyses the contents (using the 'Illumina Infinity HumanHap550-Quad+ HD Bead Research Use Only Chip' - a machine clearly taken from The Hitchhikers Guide to Branding).

This is when it starts to get digital. An email is sent a few weeks later, telling the customer that their analysis is complete, and they can start to browse their genetic profile. The website sets out the likelihood that genome indicates they have of developing a wide variety of conditions from specific cancers to Type 2 diabetes, comparing their risk with an average for the population.

The site also lets users anonymously contact genetic relatives, combing the database for matches and 'recommending' people whose DNA is similar.

It's sophisticated stuff, combining the social networking aspects of sites such as PatientsLikeMe (mentioned in this column before) with the precision of DNA profiling. Yet, 23andMe is just one of a wave of innovative services that are building a multibillion-dollar online healthcare market, and transforming the access patients and physicians have to information.

Vitals.com is a doctor-rating site in the US that allows users to find a specialist, and review their qualifications alongside patient ratings for promptness, courtesy, bedside manner and so on. Review sites have become wildly popular in travel and consumer electronics - with an even greater power/knowledge imbalance when it comes to medical treatment, the tendency for views to polarise isn't likely to stop these sites becoming influential.

While DNA can be a predictor of conditions, more immediate concerns can be dealt with by FreeMD.com. Based on the sort of decision-support software already used in engineering and financial services, it guides users through a series of questions, using their responses to narrow down the options and make a diagnosis. …

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