thoughts and ideas

Medify: Translating PubMed and Medline to patients and other non-reseachers

It doesn’t take one long to experience that the web is swamped with health related sites. Fora, databases, groups, networks, patient blogs, health expert blogs etc. It is a bit of a jungle and it just seems like the jungle grows everyday. Even though some of all these initiatives turns out not to be sustainable […]

It doesn’t take one long to experience that the web is swamped with health related sites. Fora, databases, groups, networks, patient blogs, health expert blogs etc. It is a bit of a jungle and it just seems like the jungle grows everyday. Even though some of all these initiatives turns out not to be sustainable they still ‘hang around’ and pop up in searches etc despite functionally being dead.
Today, I came across yet another health related website. It is a quite new initiative aimed at making searches in health research more easily available, but getting my head around what it actually is, what it aims to do and how it works is a little challenging. Is this one of these new initiatives that will drown in all the others or is there something to it?
What is it really?
Finding out what Medify actually is has been a little challenging, since the website description doesn’t make it quite clear to me:.
Medify is building the best place online to discover what really works for people who are managing important health situations. Our goal is simple: to help you and your family more easily navigate, stay current, and manage the often complex process of finding answers, while empowering you to get help from those you most trust. Unlike many other health information websites, everything on Medify is 100% vetted by Medical researchers.
Okay, so far so good. So the objective is to help to make searches for scientific health data easier? Am still a little confused on who the target groups is however. Patients, researchers, others?
Turning to see how others have described Medify helps a little. On the website Medicine and Technology an article by Thuc Huynh, MD describes is like this:
Finding reputable health information online is no easy task. Do a search for “medical research” on google and you’ll get 101 million web pages. Narrow it down to a disorder like “acne medical research” and you still get 3.5 million hits. Medify believes they have an answer. Their website aggregates data from well-known research facilities like the National Institute of Health and then extracts key information from research articles to create an organized, easy to understand summary page equipped with interactive graphics. From there, users can quickly compare the thousands of research articles by a number of variables. [read the full article here]
So keywords here seem to be data aggregation, summary information, interactive graphs and the possibility of comparing.
Returning to Medify’s own website a more detailed description of how the website works and what it does is given under “How it works”:
Every day, thousands of leading researchers, physicians and medical institutions worldwide study patients with health conditions. They publish their findings – often with real patient data and detail on what worked for them – in research studies to promote the advancement of medicine. Medify has developed powerful technology to mine millions of these studies every day in order to “extract” key information about the patients in each study. Similar patients across studies are combined and their experiences organized around the topics you care about: conditions, treatments, experts, and hot research issues.
Topics, experts, number of patients
So technically what do you do? I tried doing a search on “Measles”. The search gave me an overview of 1) the treatments and causes most studied (that is in this case “Mass vaccination”); 2) Which experts/research institutes/universities that have done the most studies on measles; 3) what the current hot reasearch topics within measles are; and 4) what new patient studies have been published. For all four categories a total number of patient included in the studies is given. And I can choose to have the information illustrated in different graphics (bubbles, graphs, lists – see example below) Through the search I can click my way to the studies that are identified through MEDLINE®/PubMed® (however only abstracts and other basic information, but with colour coding helping to help understand the content).
An additional function, which I however have not explore so much yet, is that you can personalise your searches and create personal pages with a support community where you can add your friends and family.
Translating medical research search engines
I find the website a little confusing, at least to begin with and the whole concept of focusing on how many patients have been studied a little bit aggressive. Despite this I do see some value of the website, especially for the very empowered patient who wants to and has the will to familiarise him/herself with all the latest scientific research. The website does not aim at translating scientific knowledge other than giving a sort of overview. But what it does do is translate search engines like PubMed and Medline into something more approachable for the newcomer to medical research. It gives a quick overviews of key words in the research for that particular disease or treatment and hints to which are the leading research institutions and researchers in the field. The comparison function is a little bit more unclear, but I guess it through its listings makes comparisons of what treatments are being researched the most, where most published research is taking place etc.
All in all, an interesting website or perhaps rater a refined search engine and undoubtfully useful to some. It is not a social platform and there is no communication taking place other than what you can create in you personal support community and the fact that you can interact with the website and choose your own prefered illustration of data etc. But then again, not everything has to be so web2.0….
Who’s behind Medify? The Seattle-based company started out with a private beta in April 2011 and Medify was launched publicly in August 2011. Medify has a group  advisors including doctors from ADAM, United Healthcare, McKesson, and Healthgrades. The company recently received $1.8 million dollars in Series A funding from angel investors and Voyager capital.