Patient-sourced drug satisfaction data has its own role to play in healthcare

By Jonah Comstock
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imgresSan Francisco-based Iodine, the startup from former Wired executive editor Thomas Goetz and former Google engineer Matt Mohebbi that launched last fall, is already starting to see some interesting data come out of its crowdsourced medication reviews.

For instance, Goetz said at the ePharma Summit in New York City, Iodine collects ratings on drugs in three categories, one of which is an overall satisfaction score. They ran the numbers for four of the highest-grossing drugs still covered by patents (Nexium, Cybalta, Crestor, and Abilify) against their generic counterparts. They found that the difference in satisfaction scores was only about one percentage point for each drug.

"This was an amazing analysis, but what do you make of it?" Goetz said. "I’m not going to say it’s as simple as substituting those generics for those brands. But it does suggest all sorts of interesting opportunities for exploration."

Goetz believes Iodine is delivering one part of what he sees as a missing link in an ever-expanding ecosystem of big data.

"[It] starts with biometric data, the 'ome's," he said "Then it goes to the next step of phenotypic data — labs, EHR data. Those are the traditional province of medicine. Then there’s the patient-generated data, the tracking and the wearables. And then there's consumer-reported data. Highly subjective, qualitative, but an important and powerful part of the stack."

Iodine is focusing on that last category.

Consumer-reported data can convey things that a comparison of harder data misses. Goetz pointed out two Iodine reviews of a sleeping pill, one very positive and one very negative, that both referred to the drug as putting them in a coma. One reviewer who had tried many sleeping pills that didn't work, considered this a huge benefit, while the other considered it a disaster. This illustrates that just knowing what a drug's effects and side effects are doesn't always mean a patient will understand how they will affect him or her personally.

That's why Iodine is building its engine to be searchable by demographics and filterable by user preferences. He compared it to TripAdvisor, that lets you search just hotels with a pool, for instance. Consumers who strongly oppose a particular side effect can filter drugs with that effect out of their searches.

"We believe these tools are needed, expected, and people really do want them," he said. "Choose whatever condition you might want, but in all of these there’s great complexity and ambiguity. Taking one drug won’t make your problem go away. That complexity is something we need to break down and restructure. The ambiguity, all of those are opportunities where we can help people see the map, see the landscape."

Goetz ended the talk by comparing Iodine to Waze, which combines Google Map data with traffic information crowdsourced from other users. The combination of hard data and subjective but aggregated user data creates a guide that's more useful than either piece alone. That's the opportunity Goetz sees for patient-sourced drug data.

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