Health 2.0: Three Innovative Internet Health Companies

The opening session of the second day of the conference featured the CEOs of CaringBridge, Healthline, and 23andMe in conversation with journalists.

The opening session of the second day of the Health 2.0 conference in San Francisco featured journalists in conversation with CEOs of three innovative health technology companies.

CaringBridge

First up, Chris Rauber of the San Francisco Business Times spoke with Sona Mehring, CEO and founder of CaringBridge, a company launched in 1997 that provides free websites to help seriously ill patients connect with friends and family. Much of their discussion centered on CaringBridge’s non-profit business model, funded by approximately $8 million per year in donations, 90% of which comes from individuals. “The decision to become a non-profit was very easy for me,” Mehring said. “It was very important to be very pure to the mission of helping people when they’re going through this health journey. I wanted to keep it free from other types of influences around revenue, around selling data, around ads showing up in this space.”

Rauber agreed that the absence of advertising on CaringBridge sites was refreshing. After all, he noted, if ads were allowed, then those caring for ailing loved ones would be bombarded with banners hawking flowers and chocolates. “When people are in this space, they’re more vulnerable, they’re more at risk,” Mehring agreed. “So we need to almost protect them, and that has been part of the underlying DNA of CaringBridge from the beginning.”

Next, Zina Moukheiber of Forbes spoke with West Shell, CEO of Healthline, a health information company that helps provides online health search, advertising, and content services to customers including Yahoo, Aetna, Ask.com, US News & World Report, UnitedHealth Group, and GE. “We enable them to deliver relevant content and provide much better levels of consumer engagement,” Shell said, adding that this sort of engagement is the key to thriving amid the fierce competition for online consumer health advertising dollars.

A major focus for Healthline is providing individualized information to consumers. “It’s really about mass personalization,” Shell said. “People want contextual information that is relevant to them. So I think you are seeing a lot more focus on taking data and turning it into information that can drive better decisions, whether it’s via the HHS data initiative or the insurance companies and others opening up their data sources. These are the kind of things that I think a lot of entrepreneurs are going to latch onto and start delivering much more personalized, powerful, and empathetic value in the marketplace.”

23andMe

Last, Russ Mitchell of Kaiser Health News spoke with Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and CEO of 23andMe, a personal genomics company that sequences portions of customers’ DNA and provides information on their genetic traits and likelihood of developing certain conditions. However, Wojcicki explained that the company has a broader mission than simply providing this information to individuals. “We’ve always wanted to enable people to get access to their genome, but the underlying goal for everybody at the company is to really try to change health care,” she said. This goal takes two forms: empowering people with information about how their genetic profile should inform their medical treatment and gathering genetic data from cohorts of people with particular conditions or who fit into particular groups that can be used to perform original research.

One of the conditions the company has focused on is Parkinson’s disease, using data from a community of almost 6,000 individuals with the disease who were recruited online. “We published our first Parkinson’s disease—specific study this year replicating a number of known Parkinson’s [genetic] associations as well as finding new associations,” she said. “It really validated to me that individuals can come together online, they can spit [to provide a DNA sample], they can fill out surveys, and you can do research that is just as high quality as your traditional research that has been done through an academic center or a pharma company.” (HCPLive also had the opportunity to speak with Wojcicki more about 23andMe -- click here to see the video.)