Family Matters

A New Health Site in Beta Testing for Pregnant Women, New Moms

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Getting pregnant and having a baby can turn the most confident woman into an uncertain, anxiety-wracked ball of nerves. There are questions like this: is the pain in my belly a sign of my uterus expanding or of impending miscarriage? And, once the baby arrives, this: What is this rash? What is this fever? And why doesn’t my baby ever stop crying?

Research these queries online and more often than not, you’ll wind up with a lot of information about possibly relevant conditions and symptoms. “If 10 people go to Google today — and one is pregnant, one is a guy, one has cancer and one is healthy — and they put in the same query, they get the same results and the same webpage,” says Ron Gutman, who founded the new site HealthTap to try to address the confusion. (More on When Mom Exercises in Pregnancy, Her Baby’s Heart Benefits)

The site bills itself as a free online “expert health companion” that helps users get more accurate, personalized answers to health-related concerns. It’s a health database and health-focused social network, with a twist. In contrast to other online health resources where the focus is on laypeople sharing information about their conditions, HealthTap combines tailored medical advice with the input of doctors who are site members.

The site launches in public beta Tuesday specifically for pregnant women and moms of infants up to 1 year old. There are now more than 500 member OB/GYNs and pediatricians, who say they are interested in supporting the site because it offers a means of connecting with potential new patients.

“In health, the Internet actually marginalized the role of the physician in the online interaction,” says Gutman. “We are trying to bring the physician back to the center of online interaction. It starts from answering moms’ and pregnant women’s questions.” (More on Time.comLonger Pregnancy + Breast-Feeding = Bigger Brains, Longer Life)

Because the interaction is personalized, users must log in to their account, where they create a health profile. A pregnant user, for example, can communicate with doctors who are part of the network, follow other users like her at the same stage of pregnancy and access previously submitted answers or tips relating to questions she has. She can also keep track of allergies, medications, conditions, immunizations, imaging, lab tests and other procedures.

A user with a fever at 18 weeks of pregnancy, for instance, may be asked a series of increasingly detailed questions that can help her potentially diagnose what’s wrong. After that, she can access the database of answers to previously submitted questions, and if she can’t find what she needs, she can ask a question of a doctor in her vicinity. Then she can follow up virtually or in person, making an appointment at that doctor’s practice.

According to a 2010 Pew Internet survey, at least half of Americans have looked online for information related to a specific health condition or medication. For many people, the Internet is the first place they turn to research health information. (More on Time.comExpecting? Text ‘BABY’ for Advice About Healthy Pregnancy)

Leah Dillon is one of them; she started using HealthTap in private beta in October when her son was 3 months old. Recently, her son, Jack, spiked a fever in the middle of the night. She typed “fever” into HealthTap and because the site knows Jack’s age and history, it was able to fine-tune questions about Jack’s temperature, how long he’d had it and what medications Dillon had tried.

It advised her to administer Tylenol around the clock as directed, then call her doctor if the fever did not go down. When she checked with her doctor’s office the next day, she got the same advice.

“I am not using it to replace the doctor, but you don’t see your doctor everyday,” says Dillon, 33, of Palo Alto, Calif. “I use it a lot for my son. I like that it’s backed by doctors, so I’m not going online in the middle of the night and getting some crazy parent. The Internet has so much information now, it’s hard to know what to trust.”