Meddik’s bet: peers beat search on health questions

If you’re like most people looking for health information on the web, chances are your first stop is Google (s goog) (or another search engine of your choice). But a new startup believes that people who understand or share your condition — not algorithms — should help guide you to the best medical information.
One of the first startups to graduate from NY-based health tech incubator Blueprint Health this spring, Meddik aggregates content submitted by members and then identifies the best articles and stories for each user based on conditions and topics of their interest. It won’t open up to the public until July, but it recently raised $750,000 in funding from Founder Collective, Chris Dixon, Collaborative Fund, Invite Media’s Nat Turner and Zach Weinberg and others.
Co-founder Tim Soo, a medical student on leave from the University of Pennslyvania to launch the startup, said he and his co-founder Ben Shyong initially started building a dedicated search engine for health. But they ultimately decided against crawling the entire web for content because they felt that the junk-to-quality content ratio is too high and working against people’s reflex to Google would be an uphill battle.
“We want to make health — not just wellness — sexy again,” Soo said. “There are few companies who focus on bringing health to the average consumer.”
Companies such as WebMD, PatientsLikeMe, Healthline and Alliance Health also provide an online heath resource for patients, but Soo said those sites either have higher barriers to entry (in that users have to complete more involved profiles) or target patients with more chronic illnesses. Fitbit, Fitocracy, Nike’s Fuel band and others appeal to a mainstream audience, but they only focus on general fitness, not the larger category of personal health. Meddik wants to play across that spectrum, Soo said.
When a user signs up for the site, she also includes short “tags” indicating conditions and topics most relevant to her: for example, “allergies” or “shin splints.” Meddik then uses those tags to build what it calls “health networks” of users with the most similar symptom and condition profiles. When users sign in to the site, it surfaces articles, personal stories and discussion threads informed by those networks. As people read content, they can save it or give it a thumbs down, further affecting its ranking.
According to Pew, about two-thirds of all consumer health queries start with a general search engine. But given that 80 percent of those searches are for specific conditions or symptoms, people are faced with flood of potentially irrelevant information. Meddik wants to give people an anonymous, easy way to find the most information most specific to them.
Meddik is still in its earliest days – it’s in closed beta with not even a couple of dozen power users seeding content. But Soo said that when it’s up and running, it plans to make money via targeted health advertising. To give readers a taste of the site, Meddik said it will open itself up to new users for 48 hours after this story’s publication. (You can check out the site here.) Also, Blueprint Health is accepting applications for its second class at this site.