Why I Created HealthTap

My years in medical school coincided with the microprocessor revolution, and I began imagining then how I could marry two of my passions--medicine and technology--to make a real impact in people’s lives. It seemed clear to me from the beginning that technology, which fundamentally serves to break down barriers for humans, could ease two critical medical challenges: access to quality care and information. Technology could make consulting with a doctor easier, reducing barriers including transportation, geography and cost. Technology also had the potential to deliver medically accurate, trusted information to millions of people. The idea for HealthTap was born.

In the early days of the Internet, I was inspired by how digital information could remove barriers. I firmly believed the Internet would democratize healthcare. However, I found that the emerging online health sector didn’t start from a place of wanting to improve healthcare delivery. Most sold advertising, which is a conflict of interest for any medical service. Others had a profit agenda that promoted unsound or shady cures and lifestyles. A large percentage of content wasn’t written by doctors or nurses. There was an abundance of medically inaccurate information. It was deeply troubling.‍

Tech in Practice

During this time, I attended as an emergency physician in the Emergency Department at San Mateo Medical Center in California. It was an ideal opportunity to combine medical research with technology: I implemented a comprehensive information system that transformed work processes for all staff. With full integration, we achieved improvements in documentation, clinical care coordination and reporting on process efficiencies. It more than paid for itself by eliminating $250,000 in annual transcription costs. Technology applied in the correct way, and in the correct place, helped doctors focus more on providing care to patients.

Fast forward several years and mobile phone use surged. The timing was right to create HealthTap. We developed the platform to ease the two pain points I saw earlier in my career: access and information.

We built a technology platform and invited physicians to join our community and share their medical advice, answering hundreds of thousands of real questions from people around the globe.Then we invited the community to peer review the millions of answers we collected. The result: HealthTap provides the largest database of board-certified doctor answers to healthcare questions in the world.

One of the questions I get most often is,“Why do doctors contribute their time--at no charge--to answer people’s medical questions?” I have heard a range of answers from our medical community over the years, but mostly the answer is because they like to help. It’s why they became doctors.

HealthTap meets people’s real-world needs in a way that works for them – on their phones, tablets and laptops from wherever they happen to be. They can read doctors answers or they can chat, text, or speak directly with a doctor. At the same time, we provide tools to support physicians during consults. But HealthTap isn’t solely about getting a diagnosis—our focus is on supporting care. Every aspect of HealthTap is designed to support patients as they receive treatment and manage their health.

Since HealthTap’s launch, hundreds of thousands of people have gained helpful insights into their health on the platform—and our virtual primary care services have supported people all over the world, including many who can’t physically travel to a doctor’s office or where no doctor is available. Delivering high-quality care to more people with HealthTap’s doctor network has been the highlight of my career.  ‍

Geoffrey W. Rutledge

Geoffrey W. Rutledge

Geoffrey W. Rutledge MD, PhD, FACMI, Chief Medical Officer and co-founder at HealthTap, is a double-board certified physician who practiced and taught medicine for more than 25 years. He earned a PhD in medical computer science from Stanford, was an NIH-funded researcher, and served on faculty at Harvard, Stanford, and UCSD medical schools. Before HealthTap, he created the first consumer health website and PHR at Healtheon/WebMD.