Medify: For when you need to become a medicine geek

New medical data service for consumers finds the studies and researchers you need to know about.

Medify CEO Derek Streat is trying to resolve the combination of data overload and knowledge underload that patients and families often suffer from when they have to deal with a chronic medical issue, like cancer, diabetes, or autism.

"There's no Kayak in this space," Streat says. "It's very 1999. There's WebMD, and thousands of Google results." He calls it the "missing middle" problem. You can get over-simplified pablum or a sea of highly technical data. But it's the information in the middle--the synthesis of hundreds of current research reports, filtered by the things that matter to you, that could be most effective. If you educate yourself, you're a better patient.

But aren't you also a pain in the neck to the doctor? Well, yes. But there are life-saving advantages to being pushy, or the less-threatening synonym, "assertive." Most good doctors have huge case loads, and none has perfect knowledge. They might miss something a highly motivated or educated patient would notice. And it's your job, as a patient, to not take any advice lying down. (I did my undergraduate thesis on medical informed consent. I'm a kvetch on this topic.)

Medify's somewhat odd symbology does give you a good overview of the hot research areas for any condition. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Medify analyzes free-form text from abstracts of articles in medical journals, and lets you filter them by patient type (gender or age, for example). Charts show you which studies are most relevant for your group, and also which are newest. The graphical language of Medify's charts is unique, but quickly learned. (See also Apixio, another startup that analyzes medical study data, but for medical professionals.)

The system also quickly tells you which institutions are doing the most research in the condition or treatment you're trying to learn about.

I used the site to research an issue my family is dealing with and found it an effective tool to uncovering relevant medical data that I probably would not have been able to pick out of the sea of technical, medical information available.

There is also a big social component. You can share anecdotal stories of treatments or results with other people in the community, and there's a developing LinkedIn-like feature designed to help patients or their family members in certain studies connect other Medify members to their caregivers. If you want, you can also connect your Medify account to Facebook, although I'd only do that very carefully, given Facebook's frequent changes that often lead to its members over-sharing pieces of their lives.

The medical social site MedHelp also collects member-reported health data; Streat said he's like to get Medify data into that site.

I respect that Medify is primarily a data-driven medical information site. It's not a soft repackaging of lay pamphlets or an unmoderated collection of bulletin boards. There is a lot more information the company could (and, hopefully, will) process to become more useful. Streat says he'd like to connect electronic medical records or insurance data to the service to help it do better filtering, for example.

As far as the business model: drug ads. Say no more.

You can drill into individual studies. Abstracts are free to read, even from paid journals. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Rafe's rating:

  • Product quality: Four out of five stars. Reveals rich and useful data that could, literally, save your life. More development would probably yield easier-to-read charts, though.
  • Business quality: Three of five. Drug companies and consumer health care services spend a lot in advertising, and this site should generate engaged, repeat users. But advertising is a fickle business, and getting users away from WebMD and other existing services will be a slog.
 

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