Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Cars and Viruses (Real Ones) Online

Less than ten years ago, selling a car meant calling your local paper to place a classified ad, and getting sick meant a call to your doctor. Today, these are two of the many things we do differently in an online world.

I had both situations last week. To sell my car, I went to This site has a great interface; buyers can search and sort by year, make, model, body style, mileage, location, price and color -- in short, drilling down from thousands of vehicles to just the right one. So skipped the local paper and listed my 1966 Ford Galaxie 500 convertible here.

Feeling a bit under the weather, and hoping to avoid a doctor visit (or at least have some indication of what was wrong with me), I checked out the leading medical Web sites: WebMD, DrKook, er, I mean, DrKoop, HealthCentral, and several others. I was hoping to find the medical version of something like the CarSoup interface -- let me enter or select from a list of symptoms and then tell me what I've got.

Unfortunately, while there is a great deal of health information now available online, none of these sites offered this type of drill-down capability. I was able to narrow down my malaise to one of four conditions, ranging from minor to life-threatening(!). I was left slightly more informed but a lot more nervous.

So, I reverted to pre-internet mode and went to the doctor. He didn't run any of the expensive tests that the health sites had indicated might be necessary (thank goodness). He simply asked me a couple of questions, checked me over briefly, told me what was wrong with me (nothing too serious, thankfully) and wrote me a prescription.

In short, while the Web has become a helpful resource for obtaining health-related information, the usability and value of even the leading sites has a long way to go. My prescription for the health-related Web sites? Check out CarSoup -- provide visitors with a clean and easy drill-down from their symptoms to the most likely diagnosis, preferably without unnecessarilly scaring them.


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