HealCam: Chatroulette-Like Site Pairs Patients for Web Chats

Doctors, inspired by Chatroulette, help patients connect.

ByABC News
February 1, 2011, 5:58 PM

Feb. 2, 2011— -- For years, 43-year-old Jamie said she combed medical websites and forums searching for people who literally shared her pain.

Hoping to get free of a degenerative disc disease, Jamie, a Dallas resident, had disc replacement surgery in 2009. But she said the operation left her in more discomfort than before.

Spine-health websites helped her find people with the same problem to exchange advice and questions, but Jamie said the "negative" tone started to wear her down.

Then a Facebook friend told her about HealCam, a site that lets patients use webcams to share problems over the Internet. It is a little like Chatroulette, the Internet sensation that connects people visually at random, but its purpose is more serious. Jamie tried it out and immediately saw the potential.

"I think it's a really cool concept. It adds a personal touch to it instead of being one amongst many that can read your thoughts and feelings," she said. "This is just a more private chat, a one-on-one thing."

Since logging on for the first time in early January, Jamie said she's found a couple of other people with similar spine problems. And, she said, the conversations on HealCam have been more encouraging and helpful than the ones she had on more traditional sites.

"I think it's because it's personal," she said. "You don't really know who they are. You can't really tell your whole story in a blog but you can face-to-face."

And that's exactly why Dr. Michael Ostrovsky said he and his brother started the site.

"I think people want to talk to each other for a variety of reasons," he said. "People want to meet people with the same diseases and share experiences."

Ostrovsky, a 41-year-old anaesthesiologist from Half Moon Bay, Calif., said he and his brother Gene started the website last June after learning about ChatRoulette.

The brothers already run MedGadget, "an Internet journal for medical technologies," and say they know of other websites that let patients share information with the crowds. But he said they saw the potential for a site that let people share advice and experiences with one person at a time.