Informed With Personalized Data

Informed With Personalized Data

Iodine, a San Francisco-based start-up, provides personalized information to individuals about medications we use to ease pain, calm anxiety, reduce symptoms of depression, or soothe a common cold. Founded by Thomas Goetz and Matt Mohebbi, and led by a team of scientists, designers, and medical professionals, Iodine is quickly becoming one of the most user-friendly, user-reviewed drug databases around. “The Yelp of medicine is here,” says a Time review posted on Iodine’s site.

In 2010 Goetz spoke about simple design tweaks that could be applied to the medicine bottle. In many ways, Iodine itself is a realization of this initial talk. It is a user-generated database of personalized, up-to-date information where the medicine bottle label is a dimensionalized application for guiding medical decisions.

Presenting information in this way helps people understand medication risks and benefits better, and in turn, have better discussions with their caregiving team. Goetz also conceived of Flip the Clinic while an entrepreneur in resident at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Flip the Clinic is an effort to make the clinical visit more valuable through an assortment of “flips,” or tweaks created by patient and clinician to improve medical experiences.

What’s important about these projects is their focus on and recognition of the meaningful clinician and patient interaction, and then creatively approaching how to drive improvements there through collaborative design. Flip the Clinic began as an evolving conversation that responded to a recognition that the fifteen minute clinical visit wasn’t being effectively used. The conversation has evolved into Labs, or localized events around the country where the people in the room represent the caregiving needs of the city’s particular demographic. As the Labs move from city to city, learnings from previous events are folded back into conversations. Flips are built to address need, and then further developed within and after the Lab. Project HoneyBee suggested a Flip in the inaugural San Fransisco Lab to include wearable devices for continuous monitoring between clinical visits. This Flip has since been refined and improved upon to the point where a database collecting validated biosensors to address this need is in development.

Like Flip the Clinic, Iodine is based on iteration and experimentation. Unrolling its database in chunks, learning as it moves forward while presenting its users with invaluable information about certain conditions. In total, Iodine has over 1,100 medications that cover nearly 1,000 indications and over 500 conditions. Using Google Trends, Google keywords data, and other tools, Iodine tracks the sort of things people are searching most and then uses this data to prioritize information on their site. In this way, Iodine is responding and being designed for expressed need.

“While we have content for hundreds of conditions and outpatient medications,” says Amanda Angelotti, MD and head of product (as well as active doula and yoga master extraordinaire), “we focus the bulk of our prototyping and experimentation around the meds and conditions that people seem to have the most questions about.” By engaging in research and development in this way, the company gets more user engagement, and the information they provide remains relevant and useful.


Another notable feature of Iodine’s database is its user interface. The team experiments  with design and features that provide interactive decision making tools for different health issues, including things like over-the-counter cold and flumedications, comparing drugs side by side, or using Chrome extensions to translate medical language on, say, a Wikipedia page, into understandable vernacular.

Their most recent segment is dedicated to pregnant women, for whom this information is doubly important.

One realization Iodine gleaned from this process was to test a hypothesis about the role of side-effects in medication adherence. They found that people started looking for more information about their drugs after they had begun to feel the effects of the medication. “Some of these people would end up on our site,” says Dr. Angelotti. Those people would ask: “Is this a side effect of this medication? Is it common? Is it normal? Is it harmful? Should I call my doctor? Our hypothesis was that at least some of these people just needed reassurance that what they were experiencing was normal and temporary.”

Iodine’s response was to provide answers. The feedback they received was very positive and revealed that some did not know the side-effects were only temporary. And since side-effects are the single most cited reason for discontinuing medication, this insight enables another point in a conversation between the clinician and patient to happen. It’s a small adjustment, but its affects are huge across the healthcare system.

Interactive databases like Iodine or evolving conversations like Flip the Clinic or Project HoneyBee’s clinically-validated wearable biosensors provide scalable, yet customizable experiences for clinicians and patients for improving significant points in the healthcare ecosystem. It’s these technologies – those disrupting without interruption that will enable true culture change. They will help to slowly shift perceptions, expectations, and concepts of accountability towards more collaborative, trusting relationships between clinician and patients.

Originally posted on the Center for Sustainable Health blog.

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