The Chatroulette of healthcare rises in the spirit of experimentation and innovation

I'm going to start this week's column not by harping on the World Economic Forum's closed-door mobile healthcare summit again, but by breaking a little bit of news: Karen Coppock has been hired to lead the McKesson Foundation's Mobilizing for Health grant program. McKesson hasn't publicly confirmed this yet, but I get this from Coppock's former employer, VitalWave Consulting, which mentioned the hire in its latest email newsletter.

Why am I on the mailing list of a firm that consults on business strategy in developing markets? VitalWave's CEO, Brooke Partridge was the facilitator of the mobile health segment of the Rockefeller Foundation's Making the eHealth Connection series of conferences in Bellagio, Italy, two years ago this month. I was one of 11 journalists worldwide invited to attend for one of the four weeks. So there, I can use my elitist, insider connections, too.

That leads me to the bigger point of this column. Mobile healthcare, in many ways, is all about experimentation. This is particularly true in developing countries where healthcare infrastructure is minimal, but it also applies right here in America. And around the globe, thanks to the Internet.

I call your attention to a story that appeared in Healthcare IT News last week. The Medgadget blog network, run by physicians and biomedical engineers, is beta-testing a video chat site called HealCam that allows people with various chronic diseases to connect with others who have similar health issues. "Similar in many ways to the website Chatroulette, the concept behind HealCam is simple: if a person would like to talk with other users who have the same issues, they log on, press start, and choose a health category. They'll then be connected, at random, with another user who has that condition," Healthcare IT News reports.

"When the conversation is over, one can just press next to be automatically connected to another person with the same condition. A user can speak to as many people as he or she wishes."

Ah, yes, Chatroulette. That's the chat hub that connects random, anonymous people for social video chats that's become notorious for the bizarreness of its chance encounters. As the New York Times reported a few months back, "Before we knew it, we were talking to a couple in Napa Valley about wine. We clicked Next and there were three naked men in Amsterdam dancing to Rick Astley music. Next, two computer students in a classroom in China asked us about New York. Then a man told us he was in jail. (Someone who looked like an armed guard stood off in the distance.)"

Is that what Internet healthcare has come to? Probably not, but it can't hurt to try something new. The health system, of course, is badly broken and in serious need of innovation. That's what readers of this publication are all about. - Neil