CHICAGO — As wrong as it feels, I’m going to say something positive about Dr. Oz.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., the excessively short-sleeved, scrubs-wearing TV doc who took a PR beating over some of his dubious recommendations, is listed as co-founder on the website of a company with the technology and financial backing to have a measurable potential effect on primary care.
Sharecare, as the company and its website are known, has a lot of features, but the one that sounds as though it could become popular is called AskMD, which is basicaly what it sounds like. The app asks you questions and it tells you what your medical problem may be.
You may be thinking: Right, I’m supposed to get excited about another health care app that is the next future transforming/game-changing/disruptive tool.
I tend to defer to the experts when judging the value of a product or service, and this one is getting some interesting backing. When Theranos, a low-cost blood test company that relies on a new technology, last year attracted investments from health systems Dignity Health and Intermountain Healthcare, it caught some people’s attention.
And, increasingly, health care companies are getting more creative, such as:
• Providence Health & Services, which hired of a bunch of Amazon executives to rework the system around the consumer
• Ascension Ventures, Ascension’s venture capital investment arm, which is focusing more on health IT with its venture capital investing
• North Shore-LIJ Health System, where a device invented at its research arm may revolutionize rheumatoid arthritis care
Sharecare’s diagnosis tool was a hot topic of discussion at a general session of HIMSS’ National Healthcare Innovation Summit on Tuesday morning, which continues today. That may be due partly to the fact that two of the four panelists are involved with the company in a fashion — Molly Joel Coye, M.D., social entrepreneur in residence for the Network for Excellence in Health Innovation and who is pictured and listed as a physician expert on Sharecare; and Jesse Bland, principal for Heritage Group, which has an investment in the company.
It also could be driven by the app's ability to do what search engines often can’t — provide good diagnoses. I tested the program on a swollen elbow I experienced last fall, using the actual symptoms, and the app picked out six possible problems, but the first one listed was what I actually had, bursitis. Obviously, that’s just one set of symptoms, but a lot of smart and able clinicians are a part of the company. Siri may be annoying at times, but I think people could highly value such a tool.