Taking the Wheel: The People and Companies Driving Health 2.0

Published: Tuesday, Jun 17, 2008
Convenient, remote information access; interconnectivity; and a host of other key features has led the healthcare industry to embrace the Internet, as evidenced by the proliferation and success of for-profit sites like Medscape, publicly funded sites such as the National Institutes of Health, and disease-specific groups like the Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome Information Service and Tourette Syndrome Association.

However, the Internet has evolved beyond its origins as a collection of interconnected websites with static information. It has become a medium through which relationships are established, information is shared and aggregated, and communities are developed. SecondLife, a virtual online world, has become a popular destination not just for recreation, but business as well. Blog authors now have a large readership base on par with some newspaper columnists. User-generated content is fast becoming the dominant online business model. The healthcare industry has embraced this trend, utilizing the Internet to do everything from publishing electronic versions of clinical journals to conducting business online with Web-based forms for prior authorization of medications and enabling patients to fi nd the right healthcare provider in an insurance network. This trend has been referred to as Web 2.0, and many new healthcare companies have adopted this paradigm, calling it Health 2.0.

Sharing the bounty of Web 2.0

Tim O’Reilly, an advocate for free and open source software and the author of many “gold standard” technical manuals, is widely acknowledged as the originator of the Web 2.0 concept. Th ere are several signifi cant principles of Web 2.0, the first being the idea of the “Web as a platform.” An analogy is that Skyscape is a document platform company but not a publisher of electronic texts.

Another important principle of Web 2.0 is that “the service automatically gets better the more people use it.” This is how the additive eff ect of more computers increases not only the number of websites, but actually provides a service. For example, the Folding@ Home project of Stanford University harnesses the idle computing power of computers and powerful gaming systems such as the PlayStation 3 on the Internet to study protein folding and misfolding via a distributed computing system. Participants can check on how much they have contributed and see how they rank against other contributors. In the spirit of competition, the hardware site ExtremeOverclocking is hosting a competition to see which group reaches 5 million points first.

In a similar vein, another principle of Web 2.0 is that the Internet as a medium has created the opportunity to harness the collective intelligence of the entire online community. Wikipedia is a prime example of this concept. The name comes from “Wiki,” a Hawaiian word for “quick,” and “pedia,” as in encyclopedia. In Web terms, a wiki is a collection of pages designed to enable anyone to contribute or modify content. Users can add pictures, video, and create links to information on other sites in addition to adding explanations, definitions, and other content. Wikipedia is a popular destination because it provides information on an unbelievably wide range of topics. Sharing resources online in large virtual communities is another key feature of Web 2.0, as exemplified by sites such as Del.icio.us, Flickr, and Digg. At Del.icio.us, after users create an account, they can bookmark favorite sites and “tag” them with keywords, enabling other users on Del.icio.us to search for and discover these sites.

Del.icio.us keeps track of how many other people save these sites as well, which provides another measure of which websites and content the community deems most relevant. In addition, Del.icio.us users can join up with one another to create networks and alert others in their network of new sites. Digg takes a similar approach, in that users tag and submit interesting and useful sites for appraisal and comment by other Digg members, who rate them either as digg (positive) or bury (negative). Digg users can search based on most popular story, least popular story, newest story, oldest story, and most-commented-on story.

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