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CEO Derek Streat founded Medify following the struggle he faced when searching for relevant information about his daughter’s rare, life-threatening illness. Derek’s previous entrepreneurial experience was honed by co-founding AdReady and the highly successful online company Classmates.com. He has made his mark in the fields of investment banking, venture capital and technology.
Medify is a leading provider of online data-driven health information, vetted from top researchers and institutions around the world. The service allows patients to discover what works for people with similar medical conditions, and use this newfound insight to ask for help from those they trust most. Specifically, Medify enables patients to personalize their health search, understand key research results through intuitive, interactive graphics, and turn insight into action through a suite of community tools. Medify mines millions of research studies to derive the world’s largest database of real patient outcomes. The site organizes key information around relevant issues including thousands of conditions, top treatments, leading experts and institutions, as well as hot research topics to help patients make highly informed decisions about their health and achieve better outcomes.
MO: Can you please share the harrowing story that inspired you to found Medify?
Derek: Unfortunately, my daughter was diagnosed with a serious medical condition in 2009 (when she was two-years-old). My family was thrust into a terrifying world that we knew nothing about. Despite having world-class doctors, finding all the answers we wanted, especially those backed by data from real patients like my daughter, was difficult. Making sense of it was nearly impossible. And knowing what to do with it, even more daunting.
As we chatted with other families searching for answers to their health questions we discovered that the problem was more widespread than one might expect. People do 10 million searches for health information every day, yet their options are pretty universally-sub-par. It’s a mixture of “in the weeds” Google search results, high-level online health sites, and Geocities-style discussion forums.
Relevance and unbiased, trusted sources of information are persistent problems, as is good design. It’s almost as if online health search is stuck in 1999 while every other space – from travel to shopping – has been updated to take advantage of new technologies and evolving online behaviors. It became pretty clear we could do better.
MO: How long did it take from the initial idea to getting Medify up and running online? What kind of technology are you using to run the site and source the information?
Derek: We spent a year and a half developing the initial version of the service. The underlying technology supporting Medify is data-lining and predictive analytics. Going down a level, we use natural langue processing (NLP) technology to structure unstructured information. We train machines to read text and find meaning within the text – semantic analysis hits on topics, treatments and conditions, while sentiment analysis gets to the core on issues like “Does this treatment work?,” “Is this safe?”, “Which treatment option works better?”. Our technology finds both types of information by forming what amounts to detailed, highly-informed predictions about a topic or sentiment it cares about.
MO: How have you managed to find real opportunity and synergy in working with public resources and what has that meant to the development process of Medify?
Derek: Our core data sources are public. Medify mines information from medical research libraries, specifically MedLine. Medline is an extremely deep depository of medical information – it houses an incredible amount of information on everything from what’s working and what people are experiencing to whether or not you can trust that information. We point our technologies, the natural language processing, at the information we collect from MedLine and create a database out of that text. We use them as the source from which to derive specific patient outcomes that are proven by medical experts, and then make that information more digestible for everyday consumers who are struggling to find informative, research-backed information on their condition.
MO: You have a lot of clinical trials featured on your site. How are you able to break down the results of the trials in a way that individuals from the non-medical community and understand and apply them?
Derek: That’s exactly what we’re doing with Medify and why we set out to create it. Our goal is to extract information from that high-level research, those facts that we think will be most meaningful to people in tough situations. Medify does house information from clinical trials – it’s information on trials that have already been conducted and about which have had research studies published around. We pull the most salient points using those semantic types millions and millions of times over, put them into the database, making it easier for the consumer. They can look at the information we’ve pulled, see it presented in a graphic or some other visual way that works best for them, or they can see the outcome statement. Medify gives consumers the bottom line, so that they can understand it more clearly. If they choose to, they can also dig deeper than that.
MO: Why is part of your mission to bring complete information transparency to healthcare and why is it currently such a large issue?
Derek: We fundamentally believe that patients need to have more of a voice in healthcare than they do today. It’s already begun to happen and needs to go further because at the end of the day, it’s the patient that needs to make the call – it’s their body, their life. Healthcare is a bottlenecked process. Some people believe that every piece of health information relating to a patient’s care should go through doctors, but the reality is they’re humans too. New research is put out every day and it’s impossible for one person or one small group of people to keep up with every new key piece of research and every promising new treatment option for every condition in the book. That’s why this is important. People will be safer and healthier if they have access to greater amounts of accurate, research-backed information.
MO: Do you think that Medify could revolutionize the way consumers approach their healthcare?
Derek: Medify isn’t the end-all be-all, but we are an agency of change and I believe we’re already playing a role in the consumer healthcare revolution. We believe that. We believe transparency and respect for the patient and their family is really something, something that can transform individual outcomes and the system as a whole. You should assume people can handle heavy information, and form thoughts, opinions and questions around it. Medify is built on a premise that people can handle information and talk to their medical team(s) about it. If we get enough people to believe with us and use Medify as a source for starting those conversations, we’ll continue to grow as an agent of change in the patient empowerment space.
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