HealCam is Chatroulette for the Sick, Another Sign of Patient Empowerment?

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Heal Cam
HealCam pairs patients with similar conditions for anonymous web chats. It doesn't seem to be getting much traffic. Maybe they really should get Jessica Alba to log on.

A new website is looking to pair up patients anonymously to help them find a community of their peers. When you have a serious or chronic illness, it can feel like no one understands what you’re going through. Doctors may be able to explain what happens to you, but can they empathize with the pain, the discomfort, and the depression? Maybe you should talk to another patient. Maybe you should use HealCam. Created by doctors Michael and Gene Ostrovsky of MedGadget, Healcam lets you chat with others anonymously via your webcam. There are no forms to fill out, no registration needed, you simply select the topic you wish to discuss and the gender with which you’re most comfortable. HealCam will pair you with other patients so you can discuss the medical issues on your mind. Don’t like who you’re talking to? Press a button and you’ll get paired with someone new. It’s like Chatroulette, but with more compassion and less full frontal nudity. So far, HealCam is off to a slow start, but it’s another example of how the web is empowering patients to find ways they can support and treat themselves.

The concept behind HealCam seems fairly simple. Patients talk to other patients to exchange stories and draw comfort from shared experiences. They may even use the conversation to learn about new treatments or new research. In that way, HealCam isn’t that different from other patient communities we’ve seen before, including the Patients Like Me site that Jamie Heywood promoted at TEDMED two years ago. In the ecosystem of patient communities, HealCam operates in a valuable niche: anonymous connections with quick video chats. It’s not an all-encompassing concept by any means. Patients who want to track data with other patients, or share in a more public forum, will have to transition to other sites. Still, for what it provides, HealCam is a great idea.

Which is why I’m hoping it starts doing better soon. While the Ostrovsky’s have had success building a website before (MedGadget) HealCam seems to be floundering. The site opened on June of 2010, but according to comments Michael Ostrovksy made to ABC News, it still is only getting up to 2000 visitors a day, and that’s in uneven spurts. When I logged on to HealCam recently there was exactly 1 visitor – me. Which is less than optimal for a webcam conversation. Even if my trial was a complete rarity, HealCam will still probably need to garner many more regular users before it can be a great help to any of its visitors. I hope the good doctors Ostrovsky have more luck in the future.

Heal Cam Test
Was I really the only one on HealCam on a weekday afternoon? A fluke perhaps? Hopefully traffic will get much better for the fledgling site.

If they fail, however, I’m fairly confident that someone else will take their place in some new form. The general trend of patient empowerment continues because of the underlying promise the internet holds to that end. The merger of information technology and medical is poised to revolutionize healthcare, but we haven’t quite seen the benefits yet. There have been several promising technologies in the works, including AI programs that could assist doctors in diagnosis, growing databases of research on specific disorders (like Autism), and large biobanks of samples linked to patient histories. Once fully realized, the combination of IT and medical research will give doctors a flood of new insights into our health.

But it is still our health, and information technology is a tool that patients can wield as well. We’ve seen continuous body monitors that you can use to track your own vital stats. There have even been extraordinary patients who, by taking their treatments into their own hands, have expanded upon and improved healthcare for other patients who share their illness. Healcam, or a site that succeeded in a similar mission, could be a valuable tool in bringing patients together to help them share their personal insights in a way that empowers them all. There is strength in numbers and comfort in knowing you’re not alone. HealCam has the right idea, let’s hope that they get it to work.

[image credits: HealCam]
[sources: HealCam Blog]