On a cold and wintery evening several years ago, I poured warm garlic oil into my ear because the Internet said it would make me feel better.

MedWhat wants to prevent this from happening, or at least provide a better way to find legitimate medical information online. The startup has built a smarter way to ask medical questions and receive trustworthy answers.

Founder Arturo Devesa said it has been called “Siri for Health” or “Dr. Google”

“MedWhat is a personal medical assistant,” founder Arturo Devesa said in an interview. “The machine behaves like a doctor. It answers health and medical questions, without being a static search engine where you have to pick through hundreds of articles and web links.”

MedWhat generates personalized answers to your medical questions using a combination of natural language processing, information retrieval, bioinformatics, and artificial intelligence technology.

People seeking information answer questions about their age, gender, medical history, and what they would tell a human doctor about their health. MedWhat takes these variables and automatically generates an answer, using information culled from legitimate medical databases like NIH and the CDC.  It does not give diagnoses or treatment recommendations, but helps people understand whether they need medical attention in the first place.

“One of the main problems in the U.S. is healthcare costs,” Devesa said. “The government is spending more than $1 trillion on social security, medicare, and medicaid, and MedWhat helps people to use technology to save time and money.”

Going to the doctor is expensive and time-consuming, which (partially) explains why I rubbed garlic into my ear. It was 4 am and I was in college. I had a searing earache with no ability to drive to a health clinic, and I a midterm exam the next day. I didn’t want to go to the doctor unless I absolutely had to, so I turned to the Internet for help and attempted to remedy the situation “homeopathically.”

Unfortunately, the garlic treatment didn’t work and I ended up smelling of garlic for days. Had I learned more about my likely condition in advance (and that garlic probably wouldn’t fix it), I could have saved myself anxiety and glares from my classmates.

The Internet is chock-full of medical advice and a significant number of doctors and patients use it to search for health information. However this information is often not easy to navigate or reliable, and most of the search is based on keywords and/or crowdsourced information.

Devesa said MedWhat’s technology is more sophisticated than sites like WebMD because it interacts with the users.

MedWhat’s app is free. The company plans to work with healthcare payers and providers who will license the technology to cut down on costs. It is also exploring target advertising opportunities.

MedWhat participated in the StartX program, and Stanford is its first investor. MedWhat has also partnered with Stanford Hospital as a customer. It is based in Palo Alto.

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