OrganizedWisdom co-founder Unity Stoakes on closing the online health gap (transcript)

This is the transcript of my recent podcast with OrganizedWisdom co-founder Unity Stoakes.

David Williams:            This is David E. Williams, co-founder of MedPharma Partners and author of the Health Business Blog.  I’m speaking today with Unity Stoakes, is co-founder and President of OrganizedWisdom.  Thanks for being with me today.

Unity Stoakes:            Thank you so much David.

Williams:            First of all, what do you mean by “Organized Wisdom”?

Stoakes:            OrganizedWisdom is an expert-driven platform for health and wellness. One of the things we discovered five years ago when we launched it is was there was all sorts of great information on the web, but it was mixed in with random information, really a lot of junk.  So we saw this big problem that needed to be fixed, namely the need to organize the wisdom; to find the nuggets within the chaos.

Williams:            What kind of wisdom did you focus on initially and how has that evolved?

Stoakes:            Five years ago the user-generated content trend was just starting. And over the last five years more doctors have been moving online.

They started participating via blogs.  They started participating via Q&A sites.  They started contributing their wisdom.

A lot of health experts are coming online to share their health knowledge and wisdom. We have seen a transformation, especially over the last two years with the growth of sites like Twitter.

Williams:            Are these experts just coming online as a byproduct of joining Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin like everyone else? Or is there something a little different about health care?

Stoakes:            Actually there’s something really different about health care. A problem that still exists today is the online health gap. What I mean is that virtually all consumers and patients are now going to the Internet before, during and after a doctor visit to search for information, find doctors or get help related to health and wellness.

Yet there’s this big disparity.  Even though there are more experts and doctors online, it is still only a few thousand of the 720,000 doctors in the United States that are actively engaging online.  So what’s different is this big gap that still exists.  Our mission is to try to close that gap and inspire more health experts, more doctors to move online and to leverage digital media to raise the standard of care.

Williams:            And how do you do that?

Stoakes:            Step one is getting them to participate online.  They’re online, in many cases, for personal reasons. They have Facebook accounts, they may have a website, but it’s getting them to share that first link, to write that first blog post, to answer that first question, to interact with a patient for the first time via e-mail.

To really inspire doctors to move online, the way to do that is to celebrate the early successes, to honor and pay homage to those early adopters and innovators who are taking the first steps.

Williams:            Even within that relatively small subset of physicians that are online, it seems to me a lot of the interactions are really physician-to-physician. Then there are a lot of other interactions that are patient-to-patient.

There’s not that much crossover where you see doctor/patient interactions.  Where does OrganizedWisdom fit in there?

Stoakes:            You really hit the nail on the head.

OrganizedWisdom is building a “mobile tool box” for doctors and other health experts.  It’s something that is easily accessible both in office and online to help these experts and these doctors better educate and enhance the patient experience.

What I mean by that is we’re actually creating a platform where every health expert can have their own destination that they can use to collect their wisdom, their documents, their illustrations, their videos, the same 20 questions they probably answer every single day. They can use that destination to sit with patients, whether it’s in front of their computer or on their iPad –which has now gained huge traction within the physician community– and use this platform as a way to connect with patients when they’re in office, but then be able to say, here is my web address, go here and search for this topic.

They can then start writing what we call “information prescriptions” rather than just prescriptions for drugs. These prescriptions guide patients to a specific destination on the web. That way patients are really connecting with their doctors and have a place to go during the doctor visit, but also after they leave the doctor.  Because what we’ve noticed is the first thing people do when they leave their doctor’s office is go to the web and try to understand what the doctor just told them.

Williams:            Are the interactions one-to-one or one-to-many? Or is there a mix?

Stoakes:            That’s a great question.  There is actually a mix.

In OrganizedWisdom you publish and collect the wisdom that you have to share once, but it’s open.  It’s an open system that’s available to all, so you can actually reach and help thousands or millions of people by sharing your wisdom. But you can also use that wisdom and knowledge that you have on a one-on-one basis with your patients when there’s a real doctor/patient relationship in the office.

Williams:            You described your origins: organizing the wisdom and finding the nuggets out there on the web.  And now, of course, as OrganizedWisdom has gotten bigger, you’ve got tons of information even within your own platform.  How do you keep making sure that it’s wisdom and nuggets and that you don’t end up with the same sort of spam that’s out there on the web in general?

Stoakes:            Two things really.  Technology does play a huge role in this, but what we’re really trying to do is create this expert health grasp and use it as a trust filter.

What I mean by that is, when you go to a site like Google or Bing, it’s basically an algorithm.  It’s a technology and machine guiding you to information.  It’s making the determination of what information is good and what information is bad.  In the case of OrganizedWisdom and this expert health grasp that we’re building, only the information, the links, and the content that has been shared and recommended and saved by this expert network gets through the system.

So we’re really counting on the wisdom of this expert community to be that filter and make sure that quality content comes through.  Sometimes bad information can slip through a system, but that’s why we have a human review process, a review board.

We analyze the data constantly.  We’re constantly purging the system so that if we see trends or negative reactions emerging from certain posters, then we can filter those experts out of the system.

In fact, we do that on an ongoing basis.  You have to apply and be approved to be in our system. I would say we decline two-thirds of the applicants.  So there’s a very high bar just to be nominated into the system, but then we also review the data very closely after these experts are in the system to determine if anyone should be deleted and excluded.

Williams:            There’s growing awareness that some free health care websites put the privacy of users’ health care information at risk. In fact that’s what a lot of the business models are based on.  Can you tell me a little bit about the OrganizedWisdom business model and if there are concerns that users should have about their privacy?

Stoakes:            Yes, first of all we don’t collect any private information on individuals.  We actually serve as a buffer between the doctor and the patient.

There is no direct link between the doctor and the patient.  So a doctor can come in and distribute and promote and share their wisdom, but they don’t know specifically who those people are that they’re sharing it with.  So even though it’s an open system, there is no direct link.

One of the great trends we’ve seen in the online health space over the last few years is this business model emerging where the default is to be open and transparent and to use the power of the aggregate data in new ways. One great example of that is a company you’re probably familiar with, PatientsLikeMe, where the community agrees upfront to sign away their privacy, sign their data away. But they get a lot of great benefits in return for doing that and an opportunity to help the community at large as well.  There are a lot of great opportunities and innovation to use the data in aggregate and that’s where the real power is.

The federal government has just released and open sourced most of the nations’ health data. You can go to and now get access to amazing amounts of data that they just opened up.  I think this is going to spur a new wave of innovation in the health and wellness space because entrepreneurs and innovators are going to be able to use that in new and exciting ways that we can’t even think of yet.

Williams:            You’ve been describing some of the advances in technology, in particular, some of the new devices like tablets and smartphones.  Is there a role for more traditional print media in all of this or is it a dinosaur?

Stoakes:            Absolutely, and in fact, we just announced recently a very large deal with Readers Digest, which is one of the nation’s most respected brands both with consumers and doctors. A big part of that deal is to distribute our online content in printed form in over 300,000 doctors offices.  So doctors will be able to pull out these wisdom cards in printed form for the top questions asked by their patients and hand their patient a destination to go online to get more information.

I definitely think there are huge opportunities, and in fact, it’s essential to be bridging the offline world with the online world.

Williams:            There has clearly been a lot of progress just in the few years since you started OrganizedWisdom.  If you would look out three to five years from now, are there any particular things that you would point to that are going to be very different from what we see today?

Stoakes:            I’m so excited right now because I really believe we’re at this unique moment in history. We’re at this moment because for the first time in years you’ve got true backing from the federal government and numerous local governments.  You have entrepreneurs who are starting to do exciting things in the health and wellness space and you also have investors from the private sector who are, for the first time, wanting to move into this space.

When I say “this space” I mean the new health innovation space.  There really hasn’t been much over the last 15 years, but over the last year, I’ve seen this moment develop where all these different constituencies including physicians, hospitals, and health experts are all understanding that the way to tackle today’s biggest challenges in health care is to come together and innovate and try new things. They are ready to do things differently.

Williams:            I’ve been speaking today with Unity Stoakes.  He is co-founder and President of OrganizedWisdom.  Thanks a lot for your time and your insights.

Stoakes:            Thank you so much.

March 29, 2011

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