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When Halle Meyer started having migraine headaches, the North Raleigh woman joined millions of Americans who suffer from the chronic ailment that causes temporary vision loss, pulsating head pain and extreme sensitivity to light, smell and sound.
The obvious first step at the onset of any significant medical problem is to visit a doctor for advice. But for Meyer, and for many others, prescribed medication and commonly suggested treatments proved ineffective in combating migraines.
In the modern age, step two for anyone afflicted and in want of a cure is to look through one of the many sources available online, in particular health information services such as WebMD and the Mayo Clinic, and forums provided by disease-specific advocacy groups.
Along Meyer’s search for relief, her husband, Terry, realized that even with a wealth of general information available at her fingertips, relevant information was difficult to find.
So the statistician created WePatients.com, a business still in its nascent state that is built around a simple idea: Get people to share information about their medical history, chronic ailments and what treatments have worked for them, so others can find ideas for treatment.
It’s not intended as a replacement for doctors. Think of it instead as a Google Reviews or IMDb of medical treatments.
“There’s a lot of very good information out there, but how do you find it?” Terry Meyer said. “Who knows better what treatments work, and what ones don’t, than someone who’s been sick? WePatients lets people see what has worked for others with similar problems.”
For now, the goal of WePatients is to get people with chronic headaches to sign up. Since launching in October, the site has drawn about 100 members, and Meyer is now working with a staff of four employees and several interns to identify groups that could help the membership grow quickly. For now a membership is free, but once 500 people have signed up, the cost will be $20 to join.
In the long run, the goal is to expand to include an array of afflictions such as insomnia, social anxiety and asthma.
Meyer said he plans to eventually incorporate data about other factors that affect health. Where a person lives, genetic code and eating and exercise habits all could be used to help people find treatments likely to work for them.
Through the recent advent of cloud computing and the precipitous drop in the cost of having DNA mapped, it has become possible to cheaply map a person’s genetic code and to combine that data with other information to look for individualized treatment plans.
Others are using genetic and health data at a macro level, hoping to give clues to diseases and disorders such as Alzheimer’s and autism, so scientists can identify causes and home in on cures.
“Medicine is a very scientific endeavor,” Meyer said. “It’s up there. What we’re doing with this information is at a much more practical level.”