The Medical Revolution Online: Rotten Thermometers

This is going to be an eye-opening week: After years of eye problems, tomorrow is the first of two cataract surgeries. Right now, the lenses in each of my eyes are covered with a white frost, called a “cataract.”  I don’t like that term - It makes me feel like a senior citizen. I prefer to imagine that I’m looking at the world through a light dusting of powdered sugar.  

Transient

To restore my sight, an ophthalmologist will be removing the natural lenses in each of my eyes and implanting artificial replacements, called intraocular lenses. Sounded scary to me at first, but it turns out it’s very routine. I’m not worried about the surgeries. The procedures each only take about fifteen minutes.  It’s like going to Jiffy Lube.

Before the surgery, I have to decide which of the intraocular lenses to have implanted. There are the basic lenses, covered by health insurance.  For an additional five thousand dollars out of my pocket, I can get the premium, state of the art models, called Crystalens ®.

The problem is that I don’t know anything about intraocular lenses, so I don’t really know if the Crystalens replacements are worth the money.  The company that makes Crystalens is now owned by Bausch + Lomb. Don’t they make contact lens cleaner?  Why can’t intraocular lenses be made by a company I really trust?  If Apple made an intraocular lens, I’d immediately be comfortable buying their model, which would probably be called the iEye.  Doesn’t that have a nice ring to it? 

Turns out making the smart and prudent call on intraocular lenses is not easy.  Other doctors I spoke to recommended getting the Crystalens, but they seemed afraid to not recommend the best available option.  That’s not advice, that’s malpractice-prevention. I wonder if they would still be so bullish on Crystalens implants if they had to personally lend me the five thousand dollars. I would reach out to my friends for advice, but no one I know has this life experience. Time to open a web browser and look for help online.

But where, exactly, on the Internet am I supposed to go?  When I was thinking of splurging on the iPad with the new Retina Display, I read the online reviews of Walt Mossberg, David Pogue, CNET and Engadget. But who are the online experts when it comes to eye implants? Who do I trust when I literally need new retina displays?  For information about medical procedures, the web is currently a scary - and a sketchy - place to be. 

Googling “Crystalens implants” brings up results that are generally one of two extremes. There are hundreds of horror stories about surgeries-gone-wrong resulting in torn retinas and ripped corneas.  These are offset by too-good-to-be-true glowing quotes from people getting the Crystalens implants: “I now have such good sight, I am able to see God.” It’s not that medical information doesn’t exist on the Internet.  The problem is a vacuum of context.

So, what’s the Rich Fix?

I want a website that focuses on the reviews of medical procedures, implants and medicines.  Not a site to do the reviewing (like webmd.com), because that would just be one more data point in a sea of data.  This would be review aggregator site for medical issues, one that is curating existing reviews and articles being published, as well as a place for user reviews and experiences to be organized and presented.  Basically, what Rotten Tomatoes does so well for movies, but for medicine.

I’d call this site Rotten Thermometers.  The job of Rotten Thermometers would be to differentiate between experts and amateurs, and organize reviews in ways the average person can easily understand.  It would give background on the “experts”, without passing judgment.  It would create a centralized community for user feedback. 

Transient

Rotten Thermometers would give me more than just important medical information.  It would give me a sense of security.  It would also give me sense of empowerment.  When making a decision about something like intraocular lenses, I wouldn’t feel so stupid.  I wouldn’t feel so alone.  It would give me a trusted environment to gather info at my own pace. Like Rotten Tomatoes, Rotten Thermometers would clearly show me the percentage of positive reviews for each particular device or procedure, so I could quickly take the temperature (pun intended) of the overall group of reviewers.

When I think about it, it seems crazy that we have sites that aggregate information to help us choose movies, gadgets and music, but not for life-and-death medical decisions.

Since there is no Rotten Thermometers yet, I had to choose my intraocular lens the way most people make major medical decisions today - on a gut feeling and hope.  I took the advice of a guy who asked me, “Would you rather be frustrated that your five thousand dollar lenses were a waste of money, or regret that you saved five thousand dollars and missed out on better eyesight?”  For a lifelong gadget geek, regret over not owning the latest and greatest is never an option.  I’m getting the Crystalens.  I sure hope that guy doesn’t work for Bausch + Lomb.

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