Israeli health portal unscrambles online medical muddle

A common cold, or something more serious? iMedix helps users diagnose their ailments with an online medical portal that combines health information with practical advice.Got a cough? Must be pneumonia. That large mole on your leg? Cancer, for sure. Among …

A common cold, or something more serious? iMedix helps users diagnose their ailments with an online medical portal that combines health information with practical advice.Got a cough? Must be pneumonia. That large mole on your leg? Cancer, for sure. Among the many clever tools the Internet has given us, one of the most double-edged must be our new ability to diagnose any ailment on our own, without the need of a doctor.

While the wealth of information has introduced us to the secret world of medicine once jealously guarded by physicians, the sheer breadth of detail out there makes it frighteningly easy to declare your own case terminal – faster than you can say ‘cyberchondria’.

Thanks to a new Israeli start-up, though, relief is not far away. Two months ago, Herzliya-based company iMedix launched a beta version of its online medical portal and community based search engine, which combines health information with a generous dose of common sense.

The site uses a traditional search function with a ranking system to rate content according to its usefulness to users. Search for “sore throat,” and you’ll not only be met with information from reputable sources such as the Mayo Clinic and Merck, but also matched with users who can provide a bit of sympathy, advice, and possibly even a recipe for grandma’s chicken soup.

“It’s all about empowerment,” explains co-founder Iri Amirav. “iMedix is about harnessing the collective intelligence of users to help them make better health related decisions.”

And with 10 million ordinary Americans performing virtual self-diagnosis every day, anything that improves the decision-making is a big step forward.

Amir Leitersdorf, CEO of iMedix, admits that today patients no longer turn up at their doctor’s doorstop in a state of graceful ignorance. Instead many have virtually researched every prognosis, even before a diagnosis has been made. iMedix taps into this trend. “We see it as a complementary source of information to what medical professionals can provide,” he told ISRAEL21c.

Of course, that’s nothing new in the brave new world of Health 2.0, which for a number of years has opened the gates to patients brave – or foolish – enough to work their way through the morass of information. But unlike existing information sources such as WebMD, iMedix operates on the principle of user-moderation, allowing surfers to communicate with each other through a real-time chat portal, dispensing advice to counteract the symptoms of information overload.

It’s an approach that the team’s resident medical adviser, Professor Yuval Shachar of Stanford University, applauds. “He is excited,” notes Amirav, “about the way technology can actually improve the decision making of a doctor and a patient by enhancing knowledge.”

For Amirav and Leitersdorf, the democratic possibilities of the Internet are nothing new. With extensive experience in companies such as cell phone media firm Movota and online video sharing site Metacafe, the pair had noted the lack of useful health information online and, says Amirav, “just decided to fix it.”

Just over a year ago, iMedix was launched on a restricted basis, and has since logged more than 100,000 users who can search more than 16 million health articles. Recently renovated as a beta version, the site is now open to everyone.

Barely two months after its launch, iMedix has been named one of five finalists in the first ever “Crunchie Awards” – an initiative of four popular tech blogs, led by TechCrunch.com, designed as the online equivalent of the Oscars. The awards, which will name a Start-up of the Year after an online vote, are to be announced on January 18 at a ceremony in San Francisco – and Amirav and Leitersdorf wouldn’t miss it for the world.

“We feel as if we’re representing Israel in this,” Amirav explained to ISRAEL21c. “I really believe in the site – I feel as if iMedix can change peoples’ lives for the better.”

And, he stresses, he is not just speaking theoretically. “I think I was the first user of the site” he explains. “Using it, I managed to get in touch with an ergonomics professional who helped me out.”

And the problem?

“Strained wrist. I was using my computer too much.”

Welcome to the world of Web 2.0.

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