Ron Gutman is CEO of HealthTap, an up and coming interactive health startup whose mission is to utilize the Internet and social media technology to better connect patients with their physicians. Ron is also an angel investor and adviser to many medtech companies, as well as a frequent writer and speaker for organizations and companies like TED and Forbes. He may be best known to the general public as an advocate for smiling. His insightful talk about smiling from this year’s TED conference has gone viral and is one of TED’s most popular videos.
This past weekend during the Medicine 2.0 Congress, Ron was kind enough to sit down and chat with us at HealthTap’s fun and friendly downtown Palo Alto office about HealthTap, the future of medicine, and of course, why he smiles.
Medgadget: How did your vision for HealthTap come about?
Ron Gutman: I’ve been doing healthcare for about seven years now and is very passionate about it. I wanted to do research, but not just for the sake of doing research, but to do something meaningful by helping people become healthier and happier. Stanford University was very supportive and helped me launch what is now called the BeWell @ Stanford program. Then I started a company called Wellsphere, which packages together health-related content that pertains to users and allows them to search and find content that pertains them the most. HealthTap came about when I began to research the answer to how meaningful and helpful people found the internet to be for health. Statistics said that a high percentage, more than 50% of people found the information on the internet to be of little help. Yet, there is a big need; there’s 1.2 billion searches on Google every month. So we’re trying to see what’s broken and build a platform that is more than just creating health information and change the process of care. How can we take web technology and apply to doctor-patient interaction in ways that will improve health? WIth Wellsphere we made an incremental improvement, but with HealthTap, we actually want to change the game.
Medgadget: What are some of the benefits that HealthTap will offer to doctors?
Ron Gutman: We interviewed about 170 physicians here at Stanford to identify what are some things we can help, specifically in patient interactions. We learned that the first thing they’d like is reputation and recognition. Right now, the internet is not a safe place for this. Physicians don’t want to mix personal and professional life. We’re building HealthTap as a safe place for physicians, the only place where doctors can account for dependencies, meaning going beyond prefacing answers with “it depends”, which will add a layer of professionalism. Secondly, physicians want help finding patients. Physicians aren’t marketers; ads aren’t cool for them. But they’re businesses, so we’re allowing them to find new patients and build relationships with existing patients. Each physician will have a “virtual practice” with their name, picture, license number, where all their answers to questions will be stored so they don’t have to answer the same question over and over again. This will help them save time, save money, and make more money. It also saves time for patients. Lastly, physicians want to be able to keep in touch with patients. There’s simply not enough time in the day for doctors to do this well, so HealthTap will allow them to share information with their own patients and prospective patients without a lot of extra effort needed.
Medgadget: What do you think are the biggest challenges to physicians embracing social media and interactive health?
Ron Gutman: Trust. They want a place that’s safe and understands physicians. They want a place where people go only to ask health questions. They don’t go to Facebook or Twitter for health questions. Current social media mixes personal life and professional life too much, and there aren’t guidelines about what can and can’t be shared. However, HealthTap does have a feature to share information on Facebook and Twitter if the physician wishes.
Medgadget: Where do you see the future of medicine going?
Ron Gutman: We’re moving into a new era called “interactive health”. I wrote an article about this for Forbes, and stated that interactive health is driven by five components: smartphone technology, cloud computing technology, social networking, and interactive gaming. Putting all these together, I think, is the future of medicine. Medical devices and pharma companies are great, but smaller, interactive health companies like ours don’t require a lot of investing or time, and can reach millions of people.
Medgadget: At Medicine 2.0, you participated in a panel co-titled “The Art of Medicine”. Can you explain what this term means to you?
Ron Gutman: I’m assuming that this is opposed to the science of medicine. The beautiful thing is that medicine involves both. We often think of only the science, but a lot of it is art. The way I like to think of it is healthcare consists of health and care. We tend to think more about health and patients and treatments, but care is something we forget. When you have a chronic condition, it’s so important to have someone that you trust, like a physician who can comfort you and reassure you. The art of medicine is about people, about the human part, and just being concerned for your patient. A physician has a role well beyond simply prescribing a medication or treatment. He has a role of reassurance, of lending a shoulder.
Medgadget: Finally, how did an emphasis on smiling become your trademark?
Ron Gutman: I like people. People make me happy. I’ve travelled a lot in my life to meet people, and found that the best way to communicate with someone whose language and culture I don’t know is to just smile. When you come to a foreign place, people are naturally suspicious, but then you smile, and this small act just changes the situation. I also love running, and I found that if I’m tired after I run long enough distances, smiling makes me feel better physically. I wondered if it was that feeling better makes me smile, or the other way around. I did some research, going into psychology and sociology and neuroscience, and found absolutely fascinating evidence that smiling actually makes you feel better. As I did more research from all over the world and discovered some amazing things about smiling, I became passionate about it. Smiling is absolutely powerful.