Making Personal Health Networking as Easy as a Book Club: Former Amazon Exec Launches Online Healthcare Site

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loft space, with cubicles—stalls, really—made from wooden planks. The space used to be a horse stable, and then a tow truck company. There were the usual hallmarks of a tech product launch: walls of whiteboards plastered with flowcharts, timelines, and yellow stickies. Roaming around the office fairly unconcerned was Schorsch’s dog, Baci (a cancer survivor, and former “second dog in command” at Amazon).

I sat down with Schorsch to drill down into the business a bit more. “My main interest is in making great consumer ideas scale,” he says. “Our purpose is to deliver a very focused solution for our customers—similar to companies like LinkedIn for finding jobs, doing recruiting, or doing business development.” That means Trusera users will be able to search for health topics—such as autism, breast cancer, infertility, and soon rheumatoid arthritis—and find stories, recommendations, and profiles written by people who have identified themselves as similar. Users also rate the content.

The network uses “unstructured” data rather than structured (treating the info all together instead of organizing it into branches), which Schorsch says makes it better for linking people across a variety of different health categories, ranging from parenting to weight loss to nutrition. “We customize based on your clickstream,” he says. “The more you contribute, the better your experience becomes. It parallels the Amazon experience—it should be as easy as buying a book or buying a new car. Right now that’s not possible online.”

In terms of the company’s advertising business model, Schorsch says it is based on health keywords and that his team will lean on “a lot of experience from Amazon, optimizing pages for conversion.” He adds, “Search engine optimization is a big part of the plan.”

Schorsch is quick to mention that health networks like Trusera are not meant to replace physician care. And he has addressed concerns about patient privacy on his network. “You have complete control over who can see your content and how many messages you receive,” he says. Ultimately his network’s success will depend on whether people feel safe and comfortable enough to share their personal stories. “The power of great content inspiring other great content is very viral,” he says. “Now we have to get the word out and develop a content base.”

So how do the prospects look? Pretty good, judging from the number of other online health networks that have popped up around the country—for instance, WebMD (which is more focused on expert content but “does great in advertising,” says Schorsch), Cambridge, MA-based Patients Like Me (affiliated with the pharmaceutical industry instead of advertising), and Daily Strength in the Bay Area.

In the end, Schorsch points out that there are more than 100 million users searching for health topics online these days, so there’s plenty of business to go around. “There’s a huge market for this. There will be a lot of winners in this space.”

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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