Can Friction be Removed in the Physician-Patient Interaction? And How Can Medical Device and Medtech Companies Get Involved?

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What do you typically do when you want to know something? You Google it, right. Pretty normal. But what if you have a health question? Google isn’t very good for delivering succinct and accurate health information. With that said, what if you could ask a “real” doctor a question anytime, anywhere? 24/7 access to an actual physician. No more waiting rooms!

In this interview with Ron Gutman, Founder and CEO of HealthTap, we learn how HealthTap is revolutionizing the physician-patient interaction. And perhaps more intriguing, Ron shows us how medtech and medical device companies can take advantage of this unique platform to engage with their customers and patients in a profound way.

Interview Highlights with Ron Gutman

  • What is HealthTap and how is this technology disrupting the traditional physician-patient interaction?
  • Want to ask a question to an actual doctor anytime, anywhere?  Better yet, get a 2nd opinion within seconds using HealthTap’s “Agree” feature.
  • 4 reasons why physicians should consider participating in the HealthTap community.
  • How medtech and medical device companies can take customer engagement to a new level using HealthTap’s platform.
  • Think the healthcare and lifescience communities are slow to respond to emerging web trends and technologies?  Learn why Ron thinks this is NOT true.
  • Ron’s lasting advice for medtech doers.  Hint: Believe that friction can and should be removed!
  • And much more!

This is What You Can do Next

1) You can listen to the interview with Ron Gutman right now:

2) You can also download the mp3 file of the interview by clicking here.

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4) Read the following transcripts from my interview with Ron Gutman.  Also, feel free to download the transcripts by clicking here.

Who is Ron Gutman?

Interview with Ron Gutman - Founder of HealthTap

Ron Gutman is the Founder and CEO of HealthTap. Prior to founding HealthTap, Ron was the founder and CEO of a leading online consumer health 2.0 company that developed the world’s largest community of independent health writers and became one of the largest health sites on the Internet, serving more than 100 million users to date (acquired in early 2009).

Ron is also an angel investor and advisor to health and technology companies, Rock Health (The first Interactive Health Incubator), and Harvard Medical School’s SMArt Initiative (“Substitutable Medical Apps, reusable technologies”). Additionally, Ron frequently speaks at health and technology conferences (such as TED and Health 2.0), writes about technology, health, and smiling in leading publications (such as Forbes, the Huffington Post, and TEDBooks), and serves as the Curator of TEDx Silicon Valley.

Read the Interview with Ron Gutman

What do you typically do when you want to know something? You Google it, right. Pretty normal. But what if you have a health question? Google isn’t very good for delivering succinct and accurate health information. With that said, what if you could ask a “real” doctor a question anytime, anywhere? 24/7 access to an actual physician. No more waiting rooms!

In this interview with Ron Gutman, Founder and CEO, we learn how HealthTap is revolutionizing the physician-patient interaction. And perhaps more intriguing, Ron shows us how medtech and medical device companies can take advantage of this unique platform to engage with their customers and patients in a profound way.


Here’s a few things we’re going to learn in the interview with Ron Gutman:


  • What is HealthTap and how is this technology disrupting the traditional physician-patient interaction?
  • Want to ask a question to an actual doctor anytime, anywhere?  Better yet, get a 2nd opinion within seconds using HealthTap’s “Agree” feature.
  • 4 reasons why physicians should consider participating in the HealthTap community.
  • How medtech and medical device companies can take customer engagement to a new level using HealthTap’s platform.
  • Think the healthcare and lifescience communities are slow to respond to emerging web trends and technologies?  Learn why Ron thinks this is NOT true.
  • Ron’s lasting advice for medtech doers.  Hint: Believe that friction can and should be removed!
  • And much more!


Of course, there’s a lot more valuable info we’re going to uncover in this interview.  But before we dig in, you need to listen to these brief messages from our sponsors.  And by the way, if you’re interested in becoming a Medsider sponsor, our sponsorships are now open.  Go to  Again, that’s


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Okay ambitious medtech and medical device doers…here’s your program…


Scott Nelson:    Hello, everyone.  Welcome to Medsider, home of the personal med tech or medical device MBA.  This is a show, if you’re new to the show, it’s a program where I bring on interesting and dynamic med tech/medical device stakeholders for an interview.  We learn more about their business, what they’re doing, hopefully we can glean a lot of insights out of the conversation.  And on today’s call we have Ron Gutman, who is the CEO and founder of HealthTap.  So welcome to the call, Ron.  Appreciate you taking some time.

Ron Gutman:   Thank you.  Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here.

Scott Nelson:    Okay, so HealthTap. is the website.  Let’s start out with an overview of what this service exactly is.

Ron Gutman:   Oh, absolutely.  So it’s very, very simple.  So, you know, every person, every patient can ask any health question that’s on their mind or any concern that they have, and within minutes get an answer from a licensed physician or several licensed physicians who are US-based, and the best thing of all is that it’s completely free.  So, really simple, valuable position of getting back to people very quickly with the best, most reliable and accessible healthcare information and answers from a network of US-licensed physicians at no cost.

Scott Nelson:    Gotcha.  Okay.  So the technical description would be like an information exchange between, you know, patients and physicians totally online.  But when I first came across HealthTap and I went to your site, I’m thinking, “Okay, how many times have I been in the waiting room of a primary care physician’s office or even in the ER and it’s freaking taking forever?”  And I’m there with maybe one of my kids or something and they have a sore throat or maybe even just something fairly basic, nothing too intense, and I’m like, “This is taking forever.  Isn’t there a more efficient way?”  That’s what I thought of instantly when I thought of HealthTap.  Is that kind of a little bit of where you’re going with this?

Ron Gutman:   Yeah, absolutely.  So, all our physicians [00:02:05] quality, right?

Scott Nelson:    Mm-hmm.

Ron Gutman:   So, [00:02:09] even to marry efficiencies and quality together, we believe that people would, and they already are, [00:02:16] to use our products and services.  And I don’t know if you heard but our app was featured as the number one app in the Android store just a few days ago, and you know there are hundreds of thousands and I think even close to a million apps in the iPhone store, and HealthTap was featured as number one…

Scott Nelson:    Okay.

Ron Gutman:   …because the concept of finding health information from a network of 7000, almost 8000 now it should be, US-licensed physicians for free is very compelling to people.

Scott Nelson:    Right, no doubt.  So, first, I wanna say congratulations for that.  That’s definitely a cool distinction for sure…

Ron Gutman:   Thank you, I appreciate that.

Scott Nelson:    …a testament to what you’re doing with HealthTap for sure.  You know, another thing that I thought of, too, when I first heard about HealthTap and in even doing some research for this interview, Ron, is kind of more of the Google aspect of it.  Because everyone knows like if you don’t know a piece of information, you just Google it, right?  “I’ll Google that,” and typically Wikipedia comes up.  But if you’ve ever googled something healthcare-related, it sucks.  I mean, it sucks bad.  I mean, it’s really, really difficult to find legitimate, you know, quick, easy answers.  You have to shuffle through a wide variety of information typically.  And so it’s almost like HealthTap is bringing really legitimate answers to healthcare questions in a very efficient way.

Ron Gutman:   Oh, that’s absolutely true, and I think that Google is actually great.  Google is not providing health answers.  Google can just point to whatever the best thing out there is, and Google just helps you orient yourself.  The problem is not Google.  The problem is what Google can find out there and the quality of this health information that is not from physician, it’s not personalized and it’s from sources that are, you know, somehow doubtful.

So what we’re doing is creating a solution that sometimes can be actually found by Google, so you can go to Google sometimes and find HealthTap physicians answering your questions and we’re creating visibility into these providers of the best health content in the world, but in the past, before HealthTap it used to be locked in doctor visits.  So, you know, you used to go to your physician and ask the question, and then his or her answer would be basically locked away in a doctor visit and never accessible again, whereas what we’re doing is once the question is answered by a physician, the answer is now available to anyone anywhere in the physician’s virtual practice on HealthTap.

So there is efficiency there of content that otherwise would be inaccessible to people is now accessible to people for free.  So whether you have a medical insurance and you are the patient of this specific doctor, and the doctor sends you to their virtual practice to see whether the question had been answered before, or you live in a place or you have an economic situation that you cannot afford going to see a doctor, you can still have access to the answers from some of the top physicians in the US.

Scott Nelson:    Gotcha.  Okay.  Very cool.  So let’s spend the next maybe 5 to 10 minutes talking about like the actual exchange or the interface between the members or patients and then the physicians using HealthTap, and probably most of my questions are gonna more on the physician’s side just because on the member’s side it seems so easy, on the patient’s side it seems so easy.  But again, HealthTap, it’s a place where I can go and ask a question, and then I can get multiple answers to that same question from a wide variety of physicians?  Or I shouldn’t variety but a number of different answers from physicians based on that question I asked?

Ron Gutman:   Absolutely, and more than that you can actually browse through answers that physicians had answered in the past for questions similar to yours so you can get a picture of what the physician community is thinking about your question.  And more than that, we added a few months ago a revolutionary feature to our service that is called the “Agree” button, and the Agree button is a button that is available only to physicians on our service and they can look at the answers by other physicians and either agree with them or not.  And if you look at an answer today, almost all answers on HealthTap you will see that they have “Agrees” on them, and if there is a question there that was answered by multiple physicians, you can actually see how many Agrees this answer has, and by doing so you can determine which answer has more credibility in the physician community.

So not only that you get multiple answers and multiple basically first opinion, second opinion, third opinion to your question, but also you can see which of these opinions carries more weight in the physician community, which is very powerful and very unique to us.

Scott Nelson:    Right.  Yeah, no doubt.  No doubt.  I can definitely see the advantages of that Agree feature.  And I’m just looking at an example right now on your website, and I see a question, “How do you prevent your child from getting ear infections?” you know, a fairly simple, fairly basic question, and I see multiple physicians have responded with the little Agree button.  Now, if I’m a physician and I come in and I kind of disagree with that answer, does my “disagree” show up as almost a reply underneath the other answers from the physicians?

Ron Gutman:   Well, there’s no disagree on HealthTap…

Scott Nelson:    Okay.

Ron Gutman:   [00:07:46] it’s a meritocracy that is based on, you know, physicians highlighting the thing that they agree with most.  So rather than a disagree because we only admit to our network US-licensed physicians that are some of the best in the practice, so we definitely actually don’t admit physicians that have disciplinary actions against them or malpractice suits and things like that.  So, all the physicians in HealthTap are great physicians.

What the Agree button allows us to do is really highlight the ones that stand out even more than others, and if [00:08:19] specific question [00:08:20] can be a doctor is getting a lot of agrees in general within a specific question, there’s another doctor who has a specific expertise and he or she will get more agrees.  But we don’t have the notion of “disagree” because we have tremendous respect to all the physicians in our network.

Scott Nelson:    Okay.  Okay.  So from a patient’s perspective, I can go on and if a certain answer has, you know, 15 agrees, I can pretty much know that that’s a pretty legitimate to my question.

Ron Gutman:   You know, this is your judgment. [Laughs]

Scott Nelson:    Yeah. [Laughs]

Ron Gutman:   What we’re doing is we believe…we want to put the power in the hand of the consumer.

Scott Nelson:    Yeah.

Ron Gutman:   What we’re doing is actually creating transparency and to watch the most knowledgeable people in medicine think about certain issues and how their knowledge is distributed and what other people think about it.  You then make the decision of whom you want to trust.  So it’s really patient-centered healthcare.

Scott Nelson:    Okay.  Okay.  And then, in regards to the app, you mentioned that you were featured as the number one downloaded Android app for healthcare.  I presume you have an iPhone and maybe even iPad app as well, you’re on the iOS market?

Ron Gutman:   Absolutely.  Absolutely.  Our first app actually was in the iPhone market, and then we have an iPad app and we’re about to launch a bunch of HTML apps as well that will be available to browsers, etc.  So, really, all the channels of distribution are open, and actually very soon we’re going to expose a bunch of APIs that mean we are allowing developers in other service providers and other device or app creators to actually attach to our service and provide it to their users.

Scott Nelson:    Okay.  Okay.  And in talking about kind of the Agree feature, if I’m a patient and I type in a question and this answer to a physician looks fairly legit, how do I know that—I mean, explain a little bit about kind of the background work that you do with physicians that want to contribute to the HealthTap community.  How do I know, I guess from a patient’s perspective, that this physician is legitimate and they’re not involved in some malpractice lawsuit or they’re a legitimate physician?

Ron Gutman:   Well, that’s our job.  We’re screening physicians one by one.  There’s a very rigorous application process.  Not every physician can be part of HealthTap.  Actually, the physicians apply or they are invited by us to participate, and when they apply we look at their license, we go to the state licensing boards and we look at their license and see if they’re in good standing, and obviously we now have enough physicians in our network that we’re getting a lot of information from other physicians, and we turned down hundreds of physicians already, unfortunately.

It’s not that we would not like to have everyone, we would, but we want to make sure that we are maintaining a status of really the best physicians in this country.  So we’re doing a very, very diligent, one-by-one, deep job of really understanding the reputation and the track record of the physicians we admit to our network.

Scott Nelson:    Okay.  And let’s shift the conversation to a little bit more on the physician’s side, coming from the physician’s perspective.  If I’m Dr. Smith and I’m an internist in Chicago, Illinois, for example, what are the benefits to me to taking part in the HealthTap community?

Ron Gutman:   Oh, absolutely.  So, first and foremost, this is the first ever safe place for a physician to build their reputation and get recognition for their expertise and knowledge online, right?  So, you know, physicians are wary of participating in social networks like Facebook and Twitter and the all the like for multiple reasons, and HealthTap is a health-dedicated, highly professional, very serious network where only US-licensed physicians are admitted and patients are funneling their very serious questions to these physicians.  So building reputation and getting recognition in an environment that is safe for physicians is something very big.

The second thing is really distribution.  Because we have so many users now, we are definitely creating a very efficient and effective channel distribution to these physicians off basically new patients who are, first, looking for an answer to their question or their concern, but eventually many of them need a doctor.  And obviously we have no intention to actually give treatment to these patients online.  We actually help them get some education and reduce their anxiety, and ultimately find the right physician for them that they can then see in the real world.  So, this is the second thing, really, distribution.

Scott Nelson:    Uh-huh.

Ron Gutman:   The third thing is this whole notion of creating efficiency in the practice of care.  And you know, I don’t know if you know but physicians in the US are getting paid by the visit…

Scott Nelson:    Mm-hmm.

Ron Gutman:   …rather than by the length of the visit, and if they can save time during the visit by not answering all these frequently asked questions that are pretty generic, there can actually be more time to either give their patient deeper care or just see more patients.  So, we are creating for them the opportunity, right, to actually take some of this knowledge that they repeat again and again and again every day and put it in the form of answers in the cloud under the virtual practice and send their current patients to interact with this content, to see it before the visit, in between doctor visits, and create efficiency in the process of care.

And more than that, because of these answers, they’re organized in a virtual practice that we do for free for every physician with their picture, with their medical license, with all the information about their practice, with contact information, etc., it can be easily found by search engines, any social media because of their expertise and not because, you know, the magazines in their waiting room were interesting or the receptionist was kind or not, which is the kind of reviews that they are getting in all the kind of doctor rating sites.

Scott Nelson:    Gotcha.  Okay.

Ron Gutman:   So it’s about the quality of the content and the knowledge of the physician, not about the quality of the magazines in the waiting room.

Scott Nelson:    Gotcha.  Gotcha.  Very good, and it makes a ton of sense.  And I noticed something on your website that referenced awards for the physicians that participate the most.  Can you explain that in a little bit more detail?

Ron Gutman:   Absolutely.  So we get so much participation that it’s almost overwhelming to see all the thousands of amazing physicians that are giving their time and their hearts and really helping us serve so many patients, so we decided to really create some recognition for these physicians, and especially the most prolific and the ones that really spend—you know, we ask hundreds of physicians to spend hours every day and really help patients everywhere.

And we decided to create some recognition for them, and we created at the end of the year this competition that basically allows the physician to actually shine and get their answers to patients but also get a lot of agrees from their peers and a lot of thanks from the users, and then the ones that actually got most of the questions and most of the thanks and most of the agrees basically got from us this award to better highlight them and recognize them for all the wonderful work that they’ve done.

Scott Nelson:    Gotcha.  Okay.  Very cool.  And have you noticed that the physicians in the HealthTap community, did they respond well to kind of that awards distinction, that awards kind of aspect to it?

Ron Gutman:   Yeah, I don’t mean that they respond to the award. [Laughs]

Scott Nelson:    [Chuckles]

Ron Gutman:   I mean that it was a nice thing to do to recognize people, to show them our appreciation.  It’s kind of happening in hindsight.  I don’t think anyone is doing it for the award. [Laughs]

Scott Nelson:    [Laughs]

Ron Gutman:   I mean, I don’t think that they need that award.  I think these are very respected physicians that get paid well and do well in the real world.  I think that their real award is the fact that they’re helping so many people all the time.  But I think it’s a nice way for us to show them our appreciation, to show them the patients’ appreciation and to highlight them, to allow them to build and enable them to build this reputation as outstanding, exceptional physicians that don’t only care about, you know, treating patients in their practice but they really care above and beyond and want to do some good in the world beyond their everyday practice.

Scott Nelson:    Gotcha.  Okay.  And I want to ask you a few more questions about kind of the HealthTap from the physicians’ perspective before we move on to, you know, how HealthTap can be used kind of for med tech and medical device companies because that’s where most of my audience is at right now.

But the liability aspect, if I’m a physician and listening to this, and I know there will be a number of physicians that will listen to this interview, I’m thinking, “Okay, I like the concept.  I like the idea that I can sort of expand my reach, maybe contribute to the community, help with efficiencies.  That’ll make sense, Ron, but what about the liability aspect?  Is there any sort of assurance that I won’t be sued by someone that [laughs] reads my answer to a question online, and then maybe they don’t like or something went wrong, and then they come back and want to file a lawsuit or something like that?”

The liability issue is always something that comes up in healthcare, so have you addressed that at all?

Ron Gutman:   Absolutely.  So, first of all, thank you for bringing up the question…

Scott Nelson:    Yeah.

Ron Gutman:   …because as you can imagine, you are not the first one who’s it bringing it up.

Scott Nelson:    [Laughs] Right.

Ron Gutman:   And we’ve heard it from physicians, we’ve heard it from other people, and the thing that we did, we embarked on an effort more than six months ago when we understood that this is a real concern that physicians have.  And although we understand that the tangible risk is actually very, very low, but although we think that, we said, “Okay, there is a concern there.  There is a concern there and we need to address it.”

So we spent almost six months talking with some of the biggest insurance companies in the world, actually, to try and convince them to create a new type of insurance that will cover physicians on HealthTap to participate on HealthTap in social media without this concern that you are mentioning.  And we were extremely lucky to be working with Lloyd’s in London, which is considered one of the largest insurance firms in the world today.  And they were open and understanding how important what we are doing is, and we worked with them and with their brokers together to create a new type of insurance that we’re providing now to all the physicians on HealthTap for free as we admit them to the network.

Scott Nelson:    Hmm.

Ron Gutman:   And this insurance covers them 100% for everything that they write on HealthTap.  We also needed as part of this process of creating this revolutionary type of insurance to put a lot of processes in place in HealthTap to ensure that we’re bringing on board physicians who are credible, that go through a very rigorous process of bringing them on board, of creating all the education materials that we’re creating, working with the physicians together to be sure that everything that we’re doing on the site is done right.  And after we had done all these processes, Lloyd’s accepted it and basically with us together created this groundbreaking insurance that allows the physician to participate on HealthTap with no concern and with full peace of mind.

Scott Nelson:    Oh, wow.  Wow.  So there should be no worries from a physician’s perspective and participating in the HealthTap community.

Ron Gutman:   Yeah.  No, the excitement was tremendous…

Scott Nelson:    Cool.

Ron Gutman:   …and there was a lot of talk about the thing in the physician community.  This is a new product.  This is an insurance that’s never existed before, and we are providing it for free to every single medical expert in the network.

Scott Nelson:    Very good.  Did not expect that answer, but definitely takes care of the liability issue without a doubt.  So last question before we move on to how medical device and med tech companies can use HealthTap.  Are there certain geographic areas across the country where you’re noticing that more physicians are using HealthTap versus other parts of the country?

Ron Gutman:   You know, this is the thing that actually surprised me.  We had an expectation that at least in the beginning we will see more of the physicians participating on HealthTap, and the usual suspects are regions of San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, etc.

Scott Nelson:    Mm-hmm.

Ron Gutman:   And we’re extremely surprised to see that within a few months we were able to actually get reach on all 50 states.  So HealthTap is now available in all 50 states and really nicely distributed in areas that we didn’t even imagine that will adapt so quickly.  But yes, we have some concentrations along the coast that are a little bit more than elsewhere in the country, but I have to tell you the truth.  I didn’t expect that within a few months we were going to get full coverage for 50 states and we were going to get so much distribution within the states, in urban areas, in rural areas.  And some of the most prolific physicians are actually coming from some rural areas in the Midwest, in the South and other coast countries, so I’m actually very excited about this.

Scott Nelson:    Yeah, without a doubt, because I think most people would suspect that you’d have the highest concentration of participation in those areas that you mentioned in the coast, particularly San Francisco, the Bay Area, New York, Southern California, etc., but that’s definitely good to hear that you’re spreading the HealthTap message throughout the country through that participation, so very good.  And then, specialties, are you noticing that certain physician specialties are participating more than others?

Ron Gutman:   So when we started this service, the first [00:23:05] panel that we did was with pediatricians and obstetricians, and then we expanded to general practice, and then we expanded to a total of 104 specialties.  So we’re very broad right now, but yes, although there’s broad participation in all of the verticals, in all of the specialties, we are seeing, I feel, you know, because the largest number of physicians that we have on our side are general practitioners, so we are seeing a lot of participation in general practitioners, which is great because general practitioners can answer questions along entire continuum of medicine.  So this is definitely the number one participating community.

Immediately after that, you see a lot of energy in pediatrics and obstetrics.  So again, we started with them at the beginning, so pregnancy, child care, everything, healthcare for children, etc, are topics that are very, very hot on HealthTap, and we’re seeing a ton of participation by pediatricians, obstetricians, and of course, general practitioners.  But even beyond that, I mean, you know, [00:24:15] lots of other participation in orthopedics, in cardiac, in dermatology, in ophthalmology.  So there are many others that we’re seeing a lot of participation as well, and we even have a couple of doctors that are doing space medicine, believe it or not. [Laughs]

Scott Nelson:    [Chuckles] No kidding.

Ron Gutman:   So if you ever want to go to space, you have a question…[laughs]

Scott Nelson:    [Laughs]

Ron Gutman:   We have a couple of doctors there, too.  So, obviously they’re going to get a lot of questions.  But I want to say, yes, there’s some more energy in certain areas, but there’s a very broad coverage all the way to very, very specific things in health and well-being.

Scott Nelson:    Okay.  Now let’s transition a little bit to how—because if I’m listening, like I mentioned before, most of the listeners on this call are kind of in the medical device/med tech arena, and I’m thinking, “This is really cool.  I’ll have to check out HealthTap in more detail.  I maybe want to use this as a patient, but how does it impact my company?”  So let me post that question to you, Ron.  I know you’ve got a certain widget that I’d like you to talk about, but how can a medical device or medical technology company use HealthTap to further their message about their particular product?

Ron Gutman:   Absolutely.  So, I mean, we have offerings for individual physicians, but now we’re broadening our reach and, first and foremost, we started reaching to healthcare providers in institutions and groups beyond the individual physician.  So we are very fortunate to have a bunch of groups, more than 600 now groups that have joined up to a pilot program that we’re doing now with institutions that actually physicians participate as a group rather than as individual physicians, you know, all the way from local smaller practices to medium practices, to all the way to large practices that we are lucky to work with organizations in Mount Sinai Hospital and the Cleveland Clinic and such.

So I think that the variety is pretty broad there.  We’re providing them the opportunity to build basically communities around their hospitals, around their physicians, and really help create an interaction, an interactive environment in their community between patients and physicians and patients and institution, and this is going really well.

We also opened a bunch of APIs that I’m very excited about, and widgets, that are enabling us to provide HealthTap’s capability to partners that want to attach what we are able to do to their products and services.  So, for example, our APIs—let’s start with the widgets.  So if you have a website or a blog that is serving patients and is serving people that care about health and provide them general information, and you want to attach the capability to actually ask a doctor a question, and this is not a HealthTap question but ask just a doctor because physicians in our network independent physicians, you can basically take our widgets at no cost, these are free widgets, but they can take it and put it on their website and then customize them.  They can come in multiple colors and sizes, and you can really customize them to whatever the look and feel of your website or blog is and provide the functionality of asking a physician a question on your website or blog.

More than that, the API can make it even more flexible and you can literally now start building apps or attaching things to your service or product, again in the same way.  If you have a medical device, if you have a diagnostic tool, if you have an app or something like that and you just want to call our APIs, create your own front end, create your own channel of distribution and just add this capability of allowing your users to actually ask questions, ask physicians questions, you can add it by getting an API key from us and starting providing.

And the APIs are extremely flexible, so you can define which kind of physician you want to answer your question, they’re in a certain specialty or a certain geography or a certain kind of provider, and there’s a lot of customization that you can actually do to choose which physicians and in what way they will answer questions on your site.

Scott Nelson:    Gotcha.

Ron Gutman:   So, it’s extremely powerful.

Scott Nelson:    So to get a little bit more specific, let’s say I’m in the marketing department at Medtronic, for example, and if a patient googles “coronary stent” or “coronary arterial disease” or “coronary artery disease” or something like that, and somehow something from Medtronic’s coronary stents come up and the patient clicks on that, it takes him to the Medtronic website that’s specific to coronary stents, there could be a little HealthTap widget that says, “Ask a question about our products directly to a physician.”  And so that patient then types in a question about coronary stents, and then a physician will answer it through the HealthTap community.  Am I understanding that correctly?

Ron Gutman:   Oh, absolutely.

Scott Nelson:    Okay.

Ron Gutman:   That’s definitely a great use case that you just outlined, potential use case, and the beautiful thing is that you get the answer from really unbiased, great physicians that will just give your patient an answer for a concern that maybe they’re not answering because this medical device company or others, I’m sure that on their website they’re spending a lot of time talking about their product, but I’m not sure if they’re spending a lot of time creating some patient education.

If the patient is there and has one of these questions that you just mentioned right now, he has two options.  One of them is to leave the site and go elsewhere to find information that they need, and the other one is to just stay on the site, and then you provide the patient some valuable information that they really appreciate and thank you for it because [laughs] you’ve provided to them value that didn’t cause them to go and do some more work to find information elsewhere and lose the patient, right?  Because he is going to be elsewhere.

Scott Nelson:    Right.

Ron Gutman:   So, I think you just said exactly one of many use cases that are possible that can be the same on devices, that can be the same on diagnostic tools, that can be the same on services that you can attach this to, that can be the same on apps and many, many use cases around that.

Scott Nelson:    Cool, and I’m sure hospitals could use the same sort of example by placing a widget on their website so if someone has a question about a particular surgery and they happen to land on a particular hospital’s website, they can directly ask maybe a physician through the HealthTap widget, and that hospital can then kind of create a little bit more engagement instead of just kind of pushing a bunch of content at that potential patient.

Ron Gutman:   Exactly.

Scott Nelson:    Yeah.

Ron Gutman:   Exactly, and they can do it while people are waiting in the waiting room.  I mean, now with the world of iPad app and iPhone app, you can imagine a hospital creating like a very simple app that people can use in their waiting room, and then just a touch of capability into the app, and then they can define that just physicians that are associated with the hospital system will answer questions…

Scott Nelson:    Uh-huh, that’s cool.

Ron Gutman:   …that are available to them, and they then attach this capability to their app without needing to create technology that they would not otherwise be able to create themselves.

Scott Nelson:    Yeah.

Ron Gutman:   So, it’s very possible.

Scott Nelson:    Yeah, [chuckles] you can run a number of different directions with that idea.  That’s very cool.  One other question I had, too, in terms of how HealthTap makes money, and more particularly from the kind of the med tech and medical device company standpoint, I’m wondering, if I’m in the marketing department for, let’s say, an insulin pump for diabetic patients, say you’ve got some diabetic patients that are asking questions on the HealthTap website, I would love to be able to put some sort of advertisement in there that redirects that person to learn more about my insulin pump that I sell, for example.  Is that possible, or are you opening up advertising through the HealthTap community?

Ron Gutman:   Oh, the short answer to your question is no.

Scott Nelson:    Okay.

Ron Gutman:   And we’re very focused right now on creating a better product and a more useful product, and then creating channels of distribution that will get more users and more doctors to participate in the interaction on our services.  So, no, we’re not offering advertising, not paid and not unpaid.  We’re really creating [chuckles] a new way for patients to interact with their health and to interact with their physicians.

Scott Nelson:    Okay.

Ron Gutman:   And I think that the business model will be more along the lines of facilitating this interaction rather than along the lines of putting ads.  I think that there are better ways and we’re not there yet, so I’m not committing to anything, but we are seeing and thinking about business models that are much more aligned with process of care, you know, and thinking about how money exchanges hands in the real world when people go and see physicians and how they exchange [00:33:57] hands for value rather than thinking about immediate solutions and advertising solutions.  Really, we are more in the world of creating less friction, less costs, better experienced interaction between patients and physicians, and we’re very keen on keeping it in that direction.

Scott Nelson:    Gotcha.  Okay.  Okay.  Cool.  Makes a lot of sense.  I know we’re running a little bit short on time, so I’d like to ask you a few, more some advice kind of background questions, because I know before HealthTap you were involved in a couple of other health and wellness startups, namely I think HealthCentral and Wellsphere.  It seems like, in researching a little bit about your background, you’ve always had an interest in kind of the healthcare space, particularly technology within the healthcare space.  I want to ask you, where does that interest come from?  Because I know you started something at Stanford as well during your time there.  Where does that interest come from?  And then the second question is, do you ever get frustrated at the speed that the healthcare community adopts, you know, the Web 2.0, Web 3.0 lifestyle, for lack of a better description?  Does that make sense?

Ron Gutman:   Oh yeah, absolutely.  So, you know, I grew up among physicians and I think I got the bug very, very early in my life.  And then, as you mentioned, when I got to Stanford I think that it was highlighted that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.  And Stanford has amazing people, very supportive of both entrepreneurship and breaking ground in an industry that needs transformation especially in like technology.  So, you know, I was just fortunate to work with some very amazing people at Stanford, and now more than [00:35:55] half of our company right now is associated with Stanford in one way or the other, so we’re very, very fortunate to be here in downtown Palo Alto and work with this amazing institution.

And I think that, well, you’re asking about innovation and you’re asking about adoption by physicians and the healthcare industry of new technology, and I think the problem is not whether or not physicians and healthcare professionals adopt technology or not.  I think they do.  I think the problem is that very few entities have ever offered them high-quality technologies to engage with, and my biggest proof point for that is, I don’t know if you knew that but I’m assuming you actually do, is that physicians are the number one adopters of iPads.

Scott Nelson:    Yeah.  Mm-hmm.

Ron Gutman:   Right?  So it’s the profession that is really one of the fastest adopting professions for iPads.  And if they were really laggers and not the adopters of new technology, that would not be the case because iPad is definitely a new technology, and their adopting it, it’s like wildfire, right?  Smartphones and iPads are just ubiquitous among physicians.  So, and that’s my proof point to show that when there are good technologies that actually provide value to the physicians, we’ll adopt it really quickly.

And we’re seeing it with HealthTap as well.  You know, we’re just a few months getting close to 8000 physicians that are using our system regularly.  And then people, when I started the business, people told me, “Don’t even start because physicians are adopting it so slowly.  They are never going to change their ways.  A lot of people tried to bring physicians to engaging [00:37:32] them in conversation and failed.  Why would you succeed?”

And I said, “No, it’s about creating great technology.  It’s about creating great interface.  We spent a lot of time on UI design, on UX design, right?  User experience, user interface, right?  We spent a ton of our time creating products that actually fulfill needs with actually designs in a way that makes it very easy and compelling to the physician and to the patient to engage.”

So I think as long as we do that exactly like Apple has, we will get a lot of adoption because physicians are not laggers in adoption but they’re very picky.  They’re very smart, and they will choose only the things that are compelling to them.  So that’s why we’re spending a lot of our time.

Scott Nelson:    Now, that’s interesting that you say that, because I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone describe it in that way, because I think that most people would respond to that question as, you know, it seems like people in the healthcare don’t really adopt technology that quickly or they’re at least slow to adopt to it.  What you’re saying is, “No, that’s not necessarily the case.  In fact, it may be the opposite.”  You’re saying that it’s not that they’re slow.  They’ll readily adopt technology if it’s right, if it’s easy to use, if it’s useful, if it’s engaging, etc.

Ron Gutman:   Yeah, so my grandmother used to say that a dancer who can’t dance says that the floor is uneven. [Chuckles]

Scott Nelson:    [Laughs]

Ron Gutman:   So, no. [Laughs]

Scott Nelson:    Yeah, that’s good.  That’s a good analogy.  Yeah, I like that.

Ron Gutman:   The floor is fine.

Scott Nelson:    Yeah.

Ron Gutman:   I mean it’s even.  You just need to learn how to dance.  We need to build interfaces, we need to build better products that actually answer needs, and we need to really, really focus on user experience and make it easy and valuable for these physicians to do what they’re doing and make their lives easier, with less friction, and actually more fun.  I mean technology can actually be a lot of fun if it’s done right.  So, this is what we’re doing and we’re very excited about it.

Scott Nelson:    Gotcha.  And lastly, I know sometimes I’ll get responses from people that listen to these interviews or read the transcripts, and they’ll say, “There’s too much that went on during the interview.  I’m not sure exactly what the take-home message would be.”  So I always like to kind of conclude the interviews with, you know, for those listening that are in the healthcare space whether it’s physicians, whether it’s people that work for a medical technology company, whoever it may be, what’s the one piece of advice that you’d like to leave them with?

Ron Gutman:   Absolutely.  You know, what I want to leave people with is the vision that healthcare will transform and will become a great place for people to find care if we are able to take a lot of it and move it to the smartphone, move it to the tablet, right?

Scott Nelson:    Mm-hmm.

Ron Gutman:   There’s a lot of friction that is being created in the healthcare system and the experience that people have with the healthcare system, but also in how they manage their health, that can be removed if we virtualize part of this process of care.  I don’t think we need to virtualize the entire process of care.  I’m not one of these people that say that we need to replace doctors with AI machines, right?

Scott Nelson:    Mm-hmm.

Ron Gutman:   What I’m saying is there are certain parts of the healthcare system that can and should be moved to the cloud where people can still interact with physicians, with healthcare institutions, with health knowledge, with much less friction, in a personalized way, because we own cell phones and we own now smartphones that are uniquely identifiable to us.  So the services that we’re getting when we’re downloading these apps are especially tailored to us, they have much less friction, right?  They cost much less and they are much, much more engaging because we feel these apps and games that people spend tons of tons of time engaging in them.

Scott Nelson:    Mm-hmm.

Ron Gutman:   So if I leave you with one thing after this interview, it’s a very compelling vision of taking a portion of healthcare and virtualizing and allowing people to very easily find the best, most compelling, most personalized, most trustworthy health information and interact with physicians and other healthcare professionals with much less friction, much simply, with less cost, and in a way that will help them improve their health and well-being in a significant way.

Scott Nelson:    Okay.  Good stuff.  Good stuff, Ron.  Have we left out anything that you’d like to highlight in particular about HealthTap or about really anything for that matter, anything that you’d like to highlight before we kind of officially conclude the interview?

Ron Gutman:   Absolutely.  So, you know, first of all, thank you for your time…

Scott Nelson:    Yeah.

Ron Gutman:   …and I appreciate the opportunity to tell the HealthTap story.  I enjoyed very much interacting and talking with you, and I want to leave people behind with [00:42:30] the idea of HealthTap is now open to partnering with the medical device companies, with websites, with apps, with diagnostic tool creators, with physicians, with healthcare institutions, to take some of the technology that we’ve built and integrate it into what they’re doing.

We’re providing these partnerships for free.  We want to help these potential partners reduce friction, reduce cost, improve their interaction with their customers and users because we believe, and if you look at our vision and credo, and I encourage you to do that, we said from the very beginning as we started this company that partnerships matter a lot to us, and this is the stage in which we’ll build enough technology that we really want to partner with other players in the healthcare system and create efficiencies and create together products and services that will serve hundreds of millions of people in a great way for everyone.

Scott Nelson:    Okay.  Okay.  And for those listening that either want to maybe simply participate in the HealthTap community on the patient’s side or whether they’re a physician that wants to contribute on the physician’s side, or even a med Sacramento device company that wants to potentially partner with HealthTap, where would you direct them?  Just go to the HealthTap community?  Is that where you would direct them?  Or go to, I’m sorry?  Or where would you direct them to?

Ron Gutman:   Yeah.  So they can go to and look at the main page.  There are three tabs that are telling our story, and they tell the story about who we are, what we make and about working with us together, and they have all the information there about interacting with us partnering with us, using the service as a patient, as a doctor, as a partner, and it’s a very comprehensive three tabs.  So everything that you want to know about what we do, what we make and how to work with us together, everything that you want to know about us is behind these three tabs.

And also, if they want, send us a quick email at and we’ll get back to them very quickly and interact with them and provide as much information as we can.

Scott Nelson:    Okay.  Very good.  So there you have it folks,  That’s just as it sounds, H-E-A-L-T-H-T-A-P as in Paul, so  So go and check out the website.  It’s actually really cool.  Very interesting technology, definitely disruptive, and I like the idea of removing the friction out of kind of the healthcare process.  So, anyway, very cool.  Thanks a ton, Ron, for coming on.  Really appreciate your time and telling us the HealthTap story.

And I’ll have you hold onto the line here, but that’s it for now folks.  Thanks a ton for listening.  And again I want to mention that if you’re listening to this interview, it’s on iTunes.  You can download all of the interviews for free.  If you do a search on iTunes for Medsider, it’ll come right up.  You can subscribe free to the podcast and those interviews will automatically download to your iTunes account, so it’s a really easy way to listen to this content.  So there you have it.  Until the next Medsider interview.  Take care.  (Music Plays)

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