Posted by: Catherine Holahan on June 16, 2008
Most social networking sites aren’t exactly serious places. The most popular ones allow friends to post flip messages on each others’ walls or send festive clip art for special occasions.
On Friday, I met a man who is trying to build a social network he believes could save lives. In fact, he credits his social network with saving his own.
When Keith Schorsch contracted Lyme disease in 2004, a dozen doctors failed to recognize the ailment that had paralyzed his facial muscles and sapped his energy. Specialists suggested arthritis, rare viruses, and even brain damage. They offered to operate.
A second opinion from a friend, however, saved him from the potentially fatal consequence of an ill-advised surgery. His friend recognized that Schorsch had Lyme disease after Schorsch described symptoms that matched his friend’s own ailment. His friend also knew that Schorsch had recently been traveling through suburban and rural areas of New Jersey known as “tick country.” “I was on the cusp of late stage Lyme,” says Schorsch. “If it wasn’t for my friend calling…”
Schorsch got more than a correct diagnosis from his friend’s advice. The former Amazon executive also got the idea for Trusera, an online community where users share health information and experiences with once another. The site fully launched earlier today, June 16.
There is no shortage of health sites on the Internet. In addition to medical information sites such as WebMD and Medstory, Google and Microsoft have aggressively moved into the space with their own offerings. Google is creating a central online repository for individuals’ medical records, while Microsoft is building a platform that enables hospitals, medical devices, and other groups to take medical information digital. All are hoping to cash in on the estimated $500 million to $1 billion health advertising market.
Schorsch believes that none of these sites or programs, however, offer the kind of interaction with other people that proved so helpful in his own case.
Talking to Schorsch in person, it’s easy to see why he believes so strongly in the value of information from the average Joe. (Full disclosure: I met him, in part, through my sister who works at the company.) Friends first told him about using acupuncture to handle the muscle paralysis brought on by his disease. He got advice about how to discuss the fatigue he sometimes suffers by chatting with others coping with chronic diseases. Doctors, Schorsch says, often don’t have the time to discuss such things during a brief visit. “10 to 15 years ago you were in an environment where you had the same doctor and he knew you,” says Schorsch. Now, many people don’t have a regular doctor who takes that kind of time, he says.
Even when the experts are available, sometimes a friend can still know best. “Sometimes you just want a direct connection to someone who has gone through it,” he says.