Forget Facebook—face-to-face is still how good innovations spread

Stuck? Feeling hopeless? Unsure of your next step? For the almost two decades Idealist has been around, we’ve been asking you—our community—to tell us about the obstacles you face when trying to turn your good intentions into action. We’ve compiled a short list of the top-reported obstacles, and now we’re blogging about them one by one. This week, we present: people issues.

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Sometimes a friendly conversation is the most effective way for an idea to spread.
(photo courtesy Filckr Creative Commons)

We can be so stubborn sometimes. Even with clear information, incentives, and easy-to-follow instructions, a lot of the time people just don’t give up their old habits.

How many of us have tried to encourage people in our community to do something differently—even if it would make their lives easier or better in some way—only to have those ideas not catch on or slowly fizzle out over time?

Even in a field like medicine where innovative ideas can save literally hundreds of thousands of lives, new ideas and improved practices are oftentimes shrugged off as unimportant. Why is this the case?

Surgeon, writer, and researcher Atul Gawande recently wrote a piece in The New Yorker exploring how good ideas are spread. By examining a recent campaign in northern India designed to reduce infant deaths after childbirth, the Better Birth Project, he suggests that a friendly face may be the most important thing campaigns designed to successfully create lasting change can offer:

The most common approach to changing behavior is to say to people, “Please do X.” Please warm the newborn. Please wash your hands. Please follow through on the twenty-seven other childbirth practices that you’re not doing. This is what we say in the classroom, in instructional videos, and in public service campaigns, and it works, but only up to a point.

To create new norms, you have to understand people’s existing norms and barriers to change. You have to understand what’s getting in their way. So what about just working with health care workers, one by one, to do just that?

With the Better Birth Project, we wondered, in particular, what would happen if we hired a cadre of childbirth-improvement workers to visit birth attendants and hospital leaders, show them why and how to follow a checklist of essential practices, understand their difficulties and objections, and help them practice doing things differently. In essence, we’d give them mentors.

He continues…

In the era of the iPhone, Facebook, and Twitter, we’ve become enamored of ideas that spread as effortlessly as ether. We want frictionless, “turnkey” solutions to the major difficulties of the world—hunger, disease, poverty.

We prefer instructional videos to teachers, drones to troops, incentives to institutions. People and institutions can feel messy and anachronistic. They introduce, as the engineers put it, uncontrolled variability.

But technology and incentive programs are not enough. “Diffusion is essentially a social process through which people talking to people spread an innovation,” wrote Everett Rogers, the great scholar of how new ideas are communicated and spread. Mass media can introduce a new idea to people.

But, Rogers showed, people follow the lead of other people they know and trust when they decide whether to take it up. Every change requires effort, and the decision to make that effort is a social process.

In the case of the Better Birth Project, direct and consistent contact with trained mentors is starting to make a difference. As the nurses build relationships with the campaign workers, they’re taking more and more ownership over the new ideas and changing their routines.

And why are they doing what the mentors suggest? In one nurse’s words: “She was nice.”

Do you know of other campaigns that have successfully used sociable tactics like this? Or campaigns that prove an exception to the rule?

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Idealist community (that’s you) steps up to help bring healing project to veterans

We love it when this happens.

In an Ideal to Real story this past May, we profiled Ellen Severino, a Brooklynite interested in alternative medicine who’s striving to bring the Japanese spiritual healing practice called Reiki to the military community. Since then, Ellen reports that the Idealist community (that’s you) has really stepped up to help her.

So far, she’s been blogged about by The Omega Institute and has made plans to attend their Veterans, Trauma & Treatment conference next month; has been collaborating with Military Musters to become their first practitioner in New York; and is looking into getting Reiki master training so she can teach others how to perform the treatment—especially people involved with the armed forces.

Plus, there was this potential game-changer:

Lori Nolen contacted me through Idealist several weeks ago. She has stepped up to the plate in a major way, providing an enormous amount of expertise and mentoring. It’s a great example of the benefits of community.
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 Ellen recently renamed her initiative the “Reiki Service Project” and adopted this snappy logo.

Lori is working through the final course of her master’s degree in nonprofit management at Regis University in Denver. For her final paper, she’s tasked with preparing a development (ie: fundraising) plan for the nonprofit of her choice. She’d researched well-established organizations for projects before, but never a startup, and Ellen’s project appealed to her.

She contacted Ellen through Idealist to ask if she could use the Reiki Service Project (RSP) as her case study.

“When I finish,” she wrote, “you’ll have a platform upon which to base your resource-building plan. You’ll have full rights to everything I write to use or change as you wish. And, perhaps others can replicate it after it is successful.”

Ellen gave Lori the green light, so for next six weeks, they’ll work together to build a viable development plan for the RSP. In the meantime, Ellen left us with these thoughts:

A month ago, it seemed like nothing was happening, everything was going at a snail’s pace. And then suddenly, there got to be a flow.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and think, “I should have had this done last week.” There’s nothing scarier than when you get that anxious, overwhelmed feeling, and you can get paralysis that way. So you just have to go one bite at a time. Just say, “Okay, what’s one email I can send right now? What’s one website I can read?”

You don’t need 15 hours to take a step toward making things happen; you need 15 minutes. Pick the very doable, small tasks, and feel the satisfaction of making progress. That moves you along.

Idealist has a very generous community. Even if they couldn’t help directly, many people reached out to say, “I think what you’re doing is great, and best of luck.” In this world, it’s so nice to have those pats on the back.

If you’d like to contact Ellen about the Reiki Service Project, send her a message through Idealist. Go community!

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Help Ellen help veterans with alternative medicine

Memorial Day reminds us to reflect on the meaning of the military in our lives and the experience of the military community. Read how one idealist is striving to lighten their burden, one person at a time, and how you can help.

Meet Ellen

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Ellen Severino

“I’ve always been drawn to complementary healing treatments,” says Ellen Severino, a Brooklyn resident who volunteers at the borough’s Fort Hamilton army base. “I was trained in reflexology many years ago and more recently was introduced to Reiki. I received several treatments and found them to be very powerful—like they shifted, or realigned, something inside me. I felt more balanced and at ease.”

Reiki is a hundred-year-old Japanese spiritual healing practice that uses light touch to bring balance and relaxation to the body and mind. Wanting to learn more about it after her own treatments, Ellen enrolled in Reiki classes at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck, New York a few years ago.

“My dad was a World War II veteran who dealt with PTSD [posttraumatic stress disorder], although there was no such diagnosis back then. He had a full life, but PTSD did limit him. I have often wondered how different his life would have been if he had received appropriate treatment. PTSD remains an enormous issue in today’s military. Reiki is by no means a cure-all, but I’ve seen it really improve the quality of people’s lives. It can be an effective tool in creating a sense of well-being.”

The intention

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Ellen gives a soldier a Reiki treatment.

Ellen started volunteering to provide Reiki treatments at the base in August of last year, and has committed about eight hours a week since. “This is a community under a tremendous amount of stress, and their resources are limited—there are year-long backlogs of vets waiting for services, and in the meantime, they’ve more than picked up the tab,” she says.

Anyone in the military community is welcome to participate in what Ellen’s been calling “The Reiki Service Project,” including enlistees, their families, civilians who work on the base, and employees of the nearby VA hospital.

“I offer Reiki treatment in a very conventional, straightforward manner,” she says. “It is an elegant and simple practice.”

So far, she’s received enthusiastic feedback. “I have 6’2” Marines coming in skeptical,” she says. “I give them a brief explanation of what Reiki is and say, ‘Give it a try.’ They’re usually surprised by how much better they feel. I’ve done at least 400 20-minute sessions, and out of those, only one person said she didn’t feel any different afterward. The soldiers I see report feeling better, sleeping better, and being able to interact with their families with more patience and ease.”

Ellen would like to spend more time offering Reiki at the base, but can’t afford to be a full-time volunteer. She would also like to see Reiki treatments made more available to the military community at large, but isn’t sure how to take the next steps.

Obstacles

So far, Ellen has shared her idea with several people and knows at least four other Reiki practitioners who would volunteer their time. She was also recently invited by a colonel at Fort Hamilton to present about Reiki on a “resiliency training” panel for over 250 army recruiters. Despite this support, Ellen is still facing some challenges:

1. Organizing.

“I lack business savvy,” she says. “I’ve looked into creating a nonprofit to expand this work, but need someone with expertise to explain the pros and cons. Perhaps there is a better way to move forward.”

2. Funding.

Ellen feels strongly that military personnel shouldn’t have to pay out of pocket for these services, but she needs ideas for alternative funding. “The good news is the overhead is very low: space is provided by the military base, Reiki doesn’t require special supplies, I don’t need to develop a product. But it still needs some money to keep it going. People tell me to look into applying for grants, but I don’t know how to single out the most likely funders, or much about the application process or writing grant proposals.”

3. Expanding.

“This is a national concern,” says Ellen. “Many military people are unsatisfied with the medical choices available to them—they want alternatives to the conventional treatments. Creating programs to educate them and offer treatments like Reiki would empower them to take charge of their healing.”

Ellen knows many practitioners successfully implementing Reiki programs in different settings, but hasn’t seen anyone near her doing it on a big scale. “There’s a program in Fort Bliss designed by the military that employs Reiki,” she says, “so they have publicly recognized its benefits. They’re also using it at Walter Reade and other veterans’ hospitals. But it should be out there more.”

How you can help

  • Are you a Reiki or other complimentary healing practitioner who has created a nonprofit and could offer advice?
  • Do you know about grants available for alternative medicine projects?
  • Are you a Reiki provider who would like to volunteer with Ellen, or start your own volunteer project in another area?
  • Are you a member of the military community who could introduce Ellen to useful contacts in your network?
  • Can you give Ellen advice about the pros and cons of starting a nonprofit versus a business to advance her work?

If you have ideas, please leave them in the comments below or send Ellen a message through Idealist. We’ll keep you up to date as The Reiki Service Project progresses.

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Beyond nonprofit jobs: How one woman used Idealist to give away one million dollars

We know people mostly use our site to find nonprofit jobs. But did you know you could do so much more, like ask each other questions and maybe even find love? Here’s how one person used Idealist to connect with nonprofits who share the same vision.

Aleyda K. Meija had one million dollars to give away.

As Director for the first Caplow Children’s Prize, she was charged with finding people and organizations around the world working to prevent mortality for children under the age of five. She had no other constraints other than the issue of focus.

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(Photo via Images_of_Money on Flickr’s Creative Commons.)

So she turned to the Idealist community for help. After doing a keyword search, she found several organizations that fit what she was looking for.

“If you know what you want, the search is really powerful,” Aleyda says. “On the one hand, the Children’s Prize is offering something – one million dollars. On the other, there are people and organizations out there that are offering what we’re seeking, which are solutions to reduce child mortality around the world. It’s reciprocal, but to make the connection is critical.”

The organizations she contacted through Idealist responded in less than two days after she sent them a message, exceeding even Aleyda’s expectations.

“I was just curious. I didn’t think anything would come of it,” she says. “But I’ve talked to representatives of these organizations several times now. I’ve had these powerful conversations to the point where we decided to host a Google Hangout, and include a panel of these representatives in child health where they’re discussing the issues and aspects that are unique to their own organization.”

Since Aleyda reached out a couple of months ago, global nonprofits such as Brown Button FoundationSafe Mothers Safe BabiesMother Health International, and Floating Doctors are going to apply or have already applied to the Prize. More than that, they’ve shared knowledge with each other as part of this small community.

“In addition to saving children’s lives, the Children’s Prize is also about making these more direct and empowering connections between a donor and potential recipients,” she says. “To impact social change across great distances, the collaborative process is to a large extent technologically dependent these days.”

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Want to connect with others on our site but are a little unsure? Feel free to reach out to Aleyda for tips on messaging, organizing Google hangouts, and more.

Used our site for more than finding a nonprofit job? Let celeste know: celeste@idealist.org.

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4 funding opportunities for your big idea

Have an idea but a lack of funding is making you feel stuck? Here are some opportunities you won’t want to miss:

2014 Prize in Creating Shared Value

Did you know the company that brings you Crunch, Cheerios, and more also has a sweet spot for social innovation? Every other year Nestlé highlights local efforts making positive impact.

  • Area of focus: Nutrition, water, or rural development
  • Prize: One winner will receive approximately $530,000 to scale or replicate their project.
  • Eligibility: Successfully piloted programs, businesses, or social enterprises around the world.
  • Deadline: March 31, 2013

Next Century Innovators Awards

Funding makes the social innovation world go round. (Photo via B Tal on Flickr’s Creative Commons.)

The Rockefeller Foundation turns 100 years old this year. To celebrate, the foundation “is calling on the ingenuity of innovators to chart new paths that will transform the lives of billions working in informal economies across the globe.”

  • Area of focus: Poverty
  • Prize: Up to ten finalists will have the chance to apply for a $100,000 grant. Three nominees, one of whom will be a youth recipient, will also get the gift of being honored at Foundation’s Innovation Forum in NYC this year.
  • Eligibility: Individuals 18 and older as well as organizations, businesses, and schools around the world.
  • Deadline: April 1, 2013

Peace First Prize

Contrary to stereotypes, young people today don’t all play video games or ignore the news. The Peace First Prize honors youth who are committed to the triad of compassion, courage, and collaborative change in their community or school.

  • Area of focus: Peacemaking
  • Prize: Five winners will each receive a $50,000 Peace First Fellowship over two years to continue their work or put toward their education.
  • Eligibility: U.S. citizens between the ages of 8 and 22 who have implemented a project domestically.
  • Deadline: April 12, 2013

Caplow Children’s Prize

Run by the Whole New World Foundation, this online contest seeks ideas for life-saving innovations that prevent child mortality before the age of five.

  • Area of focus: Child mortality
  • Prize: One winner will receive $1,000,000 to implement their idea.
  • Eligibility: Individuals or organizations around the world.
  • Deadline: April 12, 2013

Do you know of more opportunities? Leave them below in the comments!

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Action Alert: How one woman is using yoga to support a good cause

A series where we highlight people using their passions to make a difference in their communities.

Once a month on Saturday evenings, yoga students walk into a dimly lit studio at The People’s Yoga in Portland, Oregon. They bring with them their mats, their water, and a desire to give back.

They drop however many dollars they can into a donation jar set out on a table with brochures from NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. Then they assume child’s pose while a meditative guitar plays in the background.

The donation-based yoga class is taught by Melina Donalson, a former costume and fashion designer who turned to yoga almost two decades ago to calm her mind amidst the fast-paced life in Los Angeles.

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Melina welcoming students outside the The People’s Yoga on Killingsworth street in Portland, Oregon.

“I was totally burned out on all the ego and materialism in that world,” she says. “I was just too sensitive for it.”

While in California, Melina would teach yoga to friends in exchange for food, books, or anything else they felt like offering. When she moved to Portland in 2009, she knew she wanted to continue giving through teaching.

“The years of practicing have really helped me be kind to people and react in mindful ways to the world around me,” she says. “It’s an important part of yoga philosophy to be of service.”

Melina’s dad lives with a mental illness. Every other month she sends a check to NAMI as her small way of helping the cause. Sometimes it’s $30. Other times it’s a few hundred dollars. Grateful for the personal touch of support, the organization sends her a thank you letter each time, no matter the donation.

For Melina, everything seemed to fall into place once she knew what she wanted to do.

“It’s almost effortless,” she says. “It takes emails, it takes organizing, it takes being present and showing up.”

By creating a welcoming environment, she also hopes the class helps students who might be new to yoga and are nervous or afraid.

“It’s a beautiful feeling to see people leave class so relaxed. They feel good and they know where their donation is going,” she says. “That’s my whole intention with that class. To make people feel good.”

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Want to use your yoga skills for good? Melina would happily answer questions about everything from getting in contact with the right people to staying encouraged. Reach her at mndyoga@gmail.com.

Do you know someone who is taking a small step toward making their community better? Email celeste@idealist.org.

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How one company is bringing the farmers market to you

Each day, people like you have ideas on how to make the world a better place, but don’t know how to put their ideas into action. To help you take the first step, we’re profiling social entrepreneurs who are tackling issues that are important to them, one step at a time.

The idea

Here in Portland, Oregon, farmers markets are as common as bearded guys on bikes. I know I’m lucky, and I try to go to the one nearby my house every Sunday. Sometimes it doesn’t happen. So I end up buying produce at my local supermarket. And almost always, the tomatoes and peppers I buy are pricier, and just not as fresh.

Screenshot of an online farmers market.

But what if I could get what I needed delivered to the Idealist office every week?

That’s the idea behind Farmigo, a startup that’s disrupting the traditional industrial food complex as we know it.

It works like this: you, or someone else, starts a food community at a workplace, school, community center, or anywhere you visit daily. As a member of that community, you go online to the Farmigo website and choose what seasonal items from local farmers you’d like to buy: meat, fish, vegetables, baked goods, coffee, and more. The farmers then deliver the goods on a designated pick-up day. No chemicals, no handling, no middleman – and your dinner is as fresh as a chicken’s egg.

“For the person who understands the value of eating healthy but is not able to access enough healthy food, Farmigo just made it easier,” says founder Benzi Ronen. “For the folks who have wanted to get involved and become part of the solution, Farmigo provides concrete steps to take action.”

For the farmers, logistics aren’t as worrisome anymore. “Traditionally farmers are good at growing food, and sometimes we need help with marketing, sales, information management, and more,” says Nick Papadopoulos from California’s Bloomfield Farms Organics. “Farmigo is helping alleviate a whole host of pain points for us.”

Since becoming a part of Farmigo six months ago, Bloomfield Farms Organics has been able to connect with a whole new audience both online and offline  — more people have been attending their U-Pick Sundays, for example — as well as fostered collaborations with other farmers. When Nick meets with other farmers in the state, he asks questions, shares best practices, and bonds over the shared Farmigo identity.

This all sounds good and all but you might be thinking, What about the other food systems out there?

“Farmigo complements the farmers markets and CSAs by appealing to a segment of the population that were looking for fresh-from-harvest food in a more convenient fashion. Farmigo stands on the shoulders of giants; farmers markets and CSAs,”  says Benzi.

Obstacles

A couple years ago, Benzi, a decade-long Internet entrepreneur and executive, was about to start a family. “I started thinking, What kind of food did we want to have in the house to feed our baby?” he says.

Between awareness about eating healthier on the rise, the Internet reaching a tipping point where almost everyone is connected, including farmers, and social networks empowering people to influence one another, it seemed the perfect time to launch such a company.

Still, Benzi had challenges getting Farmigo up and running:

Obstacle: Lack of knowledge about farming
Solution: While Benzi’s previous experience included building software for CSAs, he admittedly didn’t know the first thing about harvesting crops. So he went around the country to 100’s of farms and spent countless hours talking with farmers about their challenges and issues. He then created technical solutions based on those conversations.

“I’m not a fan of working in an ivory tower. I believe in quick iterations. I interviewed 20 farmers, created mock-ups, interviewed 20 more, created more mock-ups, interviewed the next 20, got more feedback. Now we are taking the same approach to figure out the best possible experience for the consumer,” he says.

Fresh seasonal produce from Monkshood Nursery in NY, a local Farmigo farm.

Obstacle: Setting up food communities
Solution: Not a fan of cold calling, Benzi’s strategy is to instead find and coach hyperlocal food evangelists who are willing to kickstart a community where they are.

He’s met with success, as companies have started to use Farmigo as a way to show staff appreciation. Brooklyn-based social media agency Carrot Creative, for example, sponsors $10 toward each Farmigo purchase as a wellness benefit. Microfinance organization Kiva orders office snacks from Farmigo, and gives credit on the site as a work incentive.

Obstacle: Cultural attitudes about online ordering
Solution: Nowadays most of us order almost everything online from books to plane tickets to flowers. But produce is still lagging, despite services like FreshDirect and Peapod.

“The way we’re tackling this is not trying to get whole world to shift and buy online. We’re focusing on gaining widespread adoption within many small communities,” says Benzi.

To get people in the habit of buying kale with the click of a button, the Farmigo team helps communities host cooking classes, recipe contests, nutritional speakers, and more, continually directing them to the online component. With farmers, it’s proving to be the reverse.

“We’re seeing that farming is now becoming the new cool profession. College graduates are excited to plow the earth but they also want to be entrepreneurs and have control of their business” he says. “These young farmers are Internet savvy and know how to use online media, social networks, and mobile applications to connect directly with their consumers. They’re pushing us to build better technological solutions for their needs.”

Obstacle: Making time for family
Solution: Benzi has one daughter, with another child on the way. “A lot of people think starting a family and raising kids are obstacles. It’s not an excuse. If you’re passionate about something, then go out and do it,” he says. It helps that he has an understanding wife who is as entrepreneurial as he is, and he’s careful not to schedule meetings during his daughter’s bathtimes or mealtimes.

Advice

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Farmigo food community delivery in action.

While only in NY and CA for now, the Farmigo family is ever-growing. Soon, they’ll be expanding to other U.S. cities and releasing a knowledge hub for farmers.

A seasoned entrepreneur, here’s how Benzi thinks you can move forward on your idea:

  1. Since entrepreneurs are naturally optimistic, have a naysayer on board. “Make sure you have a co-founder or life partner who is critical of your ideas and pushes you to tests assumptions,” says Benzi.
  2. If you have a critical component to your success, it’s important to have multiple alternatives. If you have a partner who is absolutely crucial, have a back-up. Have two customers? Have a third ready. “It makes you much stronger. Because things will always go wrong,” he says.
  3. Enjoy the process. With Benzi’s other ventures, it was all about the end goal of creating a company. “In my last start-up there were long periods of time that weren’t fun. It sounds cliché, but this time around it’s about the journey itself,” he says.

“Farmigo’s mission is about making healthy food accessible to all households – this is something that has a benefit for society,” he finally says. “We hire our team members based on passion for our mission. This is a long and hard journey and we need people who are inspired to pour their hearts into this every day.”

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Ready to kickstart a Farmigo community of your own at your workplace, school, or community center? Get started here

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Idea File: "Doctor, it says on the internet…"

Forget wasting hours in a doctor’s waiting room, surrounded by sneezes and bad music. Managing your health might now be a simple click away.

I’m six months pregnant. Throughout the whole pregnancy, I’ve raced to my computer at the slightest inclination of anything amiss: a stomach cramp here, back pain there, suspicion that my liver is about to shift up under my chest. Lately I find I preface every sentence to my doctor with, “It says on the internet…”

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According to economics professor Alan B. Krueger, Americans age 15 and up spent a collective 847 million hours waiting for medical services in 2007. Photo via clevercupcakes (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Health and technology are increasingly intersecting, sometimes with mixed results. But there’s a reason why WebMD is popular: it’s easy to find information, costs nothing, and you don’t have to wait for it to call you back.

Here are some sites that are taking cues from what’s already out there to make sure your dose of information is relevant, timely, and won’t make you sick with worry:

1. PatientsLikeMe

People with every condition you can think of—from phobias to disorders to cancers—share their experiences here. Their stories are translated into real-time charts and graphs, and an easy search lets you browse by symptoms, treatments, and profiles that match yours. The idea is that laying your health issues out there for everyone to see can be therapeutic for you and useful for others.

Ultimately, the folks behind PatientsLikeMe hope this open source way of sharing knowledge can change the way medicine is done and delivered. And the best part? You don’t need insurance to take advantage of the knowledge shared here.

Considerations and caveats: If you’re not comfortable with broadcasting your health issues to the world, then this might not be for you. Also, there’s not much gender balance yet: 73.2% of the PatientsLikeMe community are female.

2. Hello Health

Say goodbye to unreturned calls from your doctor and hello to 24 hour access. Hello Health seeks to make communicating with your physician easy, efficient, and fast: you can use it to schedule appointments, check lab results, renew prescriptions, and get this, video chat with your provider.

It costs $120 per year to join, but think about how low your blood pressure will be when you don’t have to wait on hold or sit around reading gossip magazines anymore.

Considerations and caveats: For doctors, increased access has the potential to be overwhelming; managing expectations is a must. Patients who aren’t internet savvy or have limited to no access are also at a disadvantage.

3. Sickweather

Just as your local weatherman tells you when the next storm is coming through, this site alerts you when the next sickness is advancing in your area – minus the corny jokes. Scanning social networks and public sources, Sickweather lets you know which neighborhoods, restaurants, and more to avoid when the forecast calls for germs. It’s an interesting way to keep up with health trends all in one place.

Currently in beta, Sickweather is now accepting testers. But keep an eye on this site; in the space where health and technology meet, it just may be prove to be a barometer of success.

Considerations and caveats: Hypochondriacs should probably forget what they just read.

I’m curious what you think. Would you use these sites to manage your health? Why or why not?

Other Idea File posts you might enjoy:

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