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The Mednet launches its ‘Quora for cancer,’ an online medical knowledge base

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Image Credits: STEVE GSCHMEISSNER/Science Photo Library

A New York City startup called The Mednet today launched a platform that gives physicians a knowledge-sharing tool that’s as easy to use as Quora, but provides them with expert answers about the latest research in their field. The site has focused, so far, strictly on cancer.

Due to rules governing medical information and patients’ privacy, questions posted to The Mednet cannot be case-based. They are situation-based only, meaning doctors don’t share patient info, not even blurred photos.

While the startup’s site, theMednet.org, has been in development for about 2.5 years, the company officially launched today and is part of the latest batch of the Y Combinator accelerator. Co-founders Nadine Housri, a radiation oncologist, and her brother CEO Samir Housri told TechCrunch their company has raised some grant funding and equity funding to date, including from YC and The Hope Foundation.

Results on the platform have been hope-inspiring so far to Nadine Housri, she said. Cancer experts regularly help each other there to figure out complex issues that will immediately impact their patients. For example, a new study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine came out, and an investigator in that study, Howard Sandler, answered questions about it on The Mednet, helping other doctors decide whether or not to use hormones,  along with radiation, to treat a prostate cancer patient.

His study had found that adding hormonal therapy to radiation treatment improved the average long-term survival of men with prostate cancer who have had their prostate gland removed. But of course, the science was complicated and the regimen wasn’t recommended for any or every patient.

Nadine Housri said when theMednet.org first launched, she wasn’t sure if oncologists, professors, department chairs and other cancer researchers would be too busy to give away their expertise on some new online platform. But, she explained, “Experts are willing to give away info to random people here because they constantly field phone calls, emails and answer questions at medical conferences anyway. One reason you go into academia or medicine is to have a great impact on people, on your community. On Mednet experts can put their answers out there, clear up misconceptions on research and clinical practices.”

Like many startups, The Mednet has spent its early years focused on building an expert user community, and becoming a vital resource to users, as well. The Housris said their network will always be accessible for free to doctors, and they want it to serve as a knowledge base for medicine broadly. The company plans to expand beyond oncology over the long run.

It is exploring the potential to generate revenue by helping companies raise awareness of and enroll patients in their clinical trials. It could also aggregate some of its expert answers into automated decision support for clinics, the founder said. Depending on its monetization strategy, The Mednet could compete with online resources for physicians like Figure 1 or UpToDate over the long run. But when it comes to medicine, there probably can’t be too many tools to help people get good, up-to-date information.

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