US 20060004601 A1
A method and system, executed by a server, is disclosed for receiving questions from users regarding one or more topics and providing answers from a set of experts. Users can direct questions to one or more specific experts, who in turn can answer the questions, refer the questions to other experts, or both. The server automatically organizes and stores questions and answers in various fora dedicated to one or more topics, such as medical treatment for specific health conditions. Responses generated by the experts to the questions asked by the users may, in turn, be reviewed by peer review personnel. The system may be deployed at multiple network sites to provide a question and answer forum to users who visit different sites. Each network site in which the system is deployed may selectively decide whether to post at its network site the responses by experts and/or peer review personnel to questions originating from other network sites. In addition, each network site can selectively decide whether the responses by experts and/or peer review personnel to questions originating at their network site should be permitted to be posted on other network sites. Methods for funding a network site according to the present invention include the provision of advertising banners, receiving subscription payments or fees from user/subscribers for receiving expert opinions, and receiving payments from third party sponsors. Users who access the site may, in turn, receive benefits in exchange for soliciting such expert opinions.
1. A method for providing a question and answer forum on at least one network site, the forum being accessible by at least one user and at least one expert, the forum having a topic, the method comprising deploying the question and answer forum at a plurality of network sites.
2. The method of
3. The method of
transmitting the question to the expert;
receiving a response from the expert; and
posting the response generated by the expert to one of the network sites.
4. The method of
5. The method of
6. The method in accordance with
7. The method in accordance with
8. A method for providing a question and answer forum on at least two network sites, the forum being accessible by at least one user and at least one expert, the forum having a topic, the method comprising:
generating the question and answer forum at a first network site;
generating the question and answer forum at a second network site; and
receiving a question from the user accessing the forum at the second network site.
9. The method of
transmitting the question to the expert;
receiving a response from the expert; and
posting the response to one of the first network site and the second network site.
10. The method of
11. A method, executed by a server, for providing answers from at least one expert to questions posed by a plurality of users, the server communicating with the users via at least one client interface, the client interface being identified to the users as a forum on a predetermined subject matter and as presenting at least one expert on the subject matter, the method comprising:
generating the forum in at least two network sites different from each other;
receiving one of the questions from one of the users via the forum at one of the network sites;
routing the question to the expert;
receiving a command from the expert in response to the question; and
posting an answer to the question to the forum at at least one of the two different network sites.
12. The method of
13. The method of
14. The method of
15. The method in accordance with
16. The method in accordance with
17. A method, executed by a server, for providing answers from at least one expert to questions posed by at least one user, the server communicating with the user via at least one client interface, the client interface being identified to the user as a forum on a predetermined subject matter and as presenting at least one expert on the subject matter, the method comprising:
providing a question and answer forum for access by at least one user and at least one expert, the forum being generated at at least two different network sites; and
receiving a question from a user accessing the forum of one of the network sites.
18. The method of
transmitting the question to the expert;
receiving a response from the expert; and
posting the response generated by the expert to at least one of the network sites.
19. The method of
20. The method of
21. The method in accordance with
22. The method in accordance with
23. A system for providing a question and answer forum on at least one network site, the forum being accessible by at least one user and at least one expert, the forum having a topic, the system comprising a server deploying the question and answer forum at a plurality of network sites.
24. The method of
25. The method of
the server transmitting the question to the expert;
the server receiving a response from the expert; and
the server posting the response generated by the expert to one of the network sites.
This application is a continuation-in-part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/603,601, filed Jun. 26, 2000, which is a continuation-in-part of co-pending U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/516,996, filed Mar. 1, 2000, which is a continuation-in-part of co-pending U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/447,259 filed on Nov. 23, 1999, the entirety of both applications are hereby incorporated by reference.
The present invention relates to data processing for business practices, and relates more particularly to methods and apparatus for operating and funding an interactive network site.
In an interactive system, a user may engage in a dialog with a system through a series of interactions with the system, and the dialog results in changes to the system's behavior. Many World Wide Web sites are interactive. In contrast to static systems, where users simply read information posted on site, interactive web sites allow users to alter a site's contents or behavior. Interactive web sites provide a unique opportunity for interaction between users and experts in a certain field. For example, in a question and answer exchange, a user can pose questions and receive answers from an expert, using an interactive web site to facilitate the exchange.
One problem with traditional interactive web sites is the difficulty in modifying them. These systems require system administrators and technical staff to control the interaction between users and administrators. Expensive staff members have to undertake tedious and repetitive tasks, such as archiving older messages and deleting unanswered questions. Systems and methods consistent with the current invention automate these administrative tasks, freeing up staff members to concentrate on aspects of the systems that require judgment and discretion.
A problem with existing interactive systems which use experts is the lack of flexibility available to experts when answering questions. Some question and answer web sites, such as “Frenzi.com” provide the user with three responses from different experts to each question that is asked. Each expert can only give a single response. When experts can give only one answer to a question, it is difficult to change an opinion or elaborate on an answer. Systems and methods consistent with the current invention give experts a great deal of flexibility and control. Experts can add references and pictures to their answer. They can refer questions to other peer review personnel or supplement or edit their previous answers. Experts can also post multiple answers to a single question. These capabilities help experts make their responses more accurate and complete.
Further problems with such systems include the ability to fund the operation of the network site and to compensate experts employed by the site administrator. Existing question and answer interactive network sites rely on various funding techniques. Experts that are answering the questions may charge the users a fee. This is the situation at the “ExpertCentral.com” network site in which the experts ask for a fee or submit proposals for a project to the user. The site in turn takes a percentage of all fees paid to the experts. Alternatively, the “AskMe.com” web site is a free consumer-to-consumer service that allows consumers to ask any question to real people with expertise in a broad range of topics. A bonus point system distributes money each month to the top rated experts and users. Another common method of funding the web site is to issue points or credits to experts and/or users. Users are issued a predetermined number of initial credits. Each time the user's question is answered the system deducts some of those credits. Credits may be earned by answering other users' questions.
It is therefore desirable to develop other methods of funding that shift at least some of the financial burden off of the user and/or expert to a third party sponsor. Not only is the third party sponsor typically in a better financial position to bear some, if not all, of the financial burden, but the business operations of the third party sponsor may benefit as a result of funding the forum.
In order to address and solve certain of the foregoing shortcomings in the prior art, the present invention provides a method and accompanying system for funding an interactive network site that provides one or more fora accessible by users and experts. Each forum preferably relates to a particular topic, such as a medical topic. An operator of the network site may then receive a payment from a third party wherein the payment is conditioned upon the topic.
In a second embodiment of the present invention, a method and accompanying apparatus for reviewing medical treatment of a user receiving medical insurance includes providing a forum on a network site for access by a user and an expert, wherein the user may request an opinion of the expert, which in turn may be peer-reviewed by a second expert providing a second opinion on a medical treatment received by the user. The user may then have their health insurance premium adjusted based on the request.
In another embodiment, topics may include discussions regarding a particular medical condition, the use of a drug or a medical treatment. The third party may be any party interested in the topic such as a medical insurance provider or a drug manufacturer.
In a further embodiment of the present invention, the expert may include a doctor, an insurance case manager, or other medical personnel.
In yet another embodiment, the operator of the network site may charge a fee to the user for the access. The fee, in turn, may be a subscription fee or may be charged based on each transaction the user has with the network site. The payment of the fee charged to the user may be provided by a third party in exchange for the user providing personal information to the third party or to the network site to be aggregated for the third party without release of the user's identity. Such personal information may include demographic information, identification information, medical treatment information and drug treatment information.
In still another embodiment, the site operator may display banner advertisements on a page of the network site and receive a fee in exchange for the same. In this embodiment, the fee may be based on a number of users accessing the network site.
In still another embodiment of the present invention, an expert may be compensated for responding to one or more questions presented to the forum.
In yet another embodiment of the present invention, the network site provides peer review for a response submitted by an expert. The peer review may be performed by a doctor or an insurance case manager.
In still another embodiment of the present invention, the user may be a medical professional and the topic may be based on a continuing medical education course.
In yet another embodiment of the present invention, a user may receive points for accessing one or more network sites, including the network site. In turn, the user may receive a benefit from the third party based on the accumulated points the user receives. Benefits may include providing access to the forum, providing a payment of a fee for accessing the site, providing a discount on a medical treatment, providing a discount on a drug and providing a discount on a medical insurance premium. The points may be awarded to the user based on a number of visits the user made to a network site, an answer to at least one question provided by the user, and a provision of personal information from the user.
In still another embodiment of the present invention, a user may be provided with a user identification and a password in order to access the network site.
In yet another embodiment, the method and accompanying apparatus for reviewing medical treatment of a user receiving medical insurance includes providing a forum on a network site for access by a user and an expert, wherein the user may request an opinion of the expert, which in turn may be peer-reviewed by a second expert providing a second opinion on a medical treatment received by the user. The user may then have their health insurance premium adjusted based on the request.
In another embodiment, a method for funding a question and answer interactive network site is provided, wherein a payment is received from a third party, e.g., an HMO provider, associated with a third party service for access to the network site by only those users that subscribe to the third party service.
In still another embodiment, a method for funding an interactive network site is provided, wherein experts respond to questions asked by users. In turn, peer review personnel review the responses provided by the experts. Funding for the provision of the forum is received through third party payments.
While in another embodiment, a method for funding an interactive network site is provided, wherein payments for the provision of the forum are received from a third party associated with a third party service. Benefits concerning the third party service are issued to the user by the third party. Alternatively, benefits may be issued to a party other than the third party, such as a pharmacy.
In still another embodiment, a method for reviewing medical treatment of a user enrolled in a medical insurance program is provided. In response to a request, the user receives a second opinion from the expert concerning a medical treatment and/or a drug. Subsequently, the user's insurance premium is adjusted.
Another embodiment of the invention is directed to a method for operating a question and answer forum system deployed at a plurality of interactive network sites. A question is received from a user accessing one of said plural interactive network sites. Thereafter, an answer is received from an expert in response to the question along with a command signal indicating which network sites to post the response. The response generated by the expert is then posted on a selective basis on any of the plural interactive network sites based on the command signal. Also disclosed is a system for providing the question and answer forum described above.
The present invention is also directed to a method for operating a question and answer forum system deployed at a plurality of interactive network sites, wherein questions and responses are received from users and experts, respectively. A command signal is received from a server associated with at least one of the network sites. The responses generated by the experts are posted on a selective basis at the interactive network sites based on the command signal. Also disclosed is a system for providing the question and answer forum above.
Another embodiment discloses a method for funding an interactive network site, wherein responses by experts to questions generated by users are, in turn, reviewed by peer review personnel. A payment is received from a third party for the provision of the forum.
Further aspects of the instant invention will be more readily appreciated upon review of the detailed description of the preferred embodiments included below when taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, of which:
Systems and methods consistent with the present invention allow users to obtain information on a given subject by interacting with experts on that subject. Users can get answers to their questions either by asking a question or by reviewing answers to questions that others have posed. If asked a question, an expert can either provide an answer or refer the question to another expert. An expert can also act as peer review personnel by reviewing the responses posted by another expert. In addition, experts and/or peer review personnel can post their responses in any forum, category, and network site they desire.
In one embodiment, users can visit a web site to have their AIDS- and HIV-related questions answered by doctors and other experts in the field. The site provides several benefits to users. For instance, it lowers barriers between patients and clinicians, demystifies HUV/AIDS and its treatment, improves patients' quality of life and fosters community through human connection.
The web site is divided into several fora based on subject matter within the broad topic of AIDS- and HIV-related information. Fora may have separate sections for recent questions and archived, or older, questions. The archived questions for a particular fora may be further divided into categories by subject matter. Each forum may have its own set of categories.
One possible implementation provides for dynamic management of each forum and of the system itself. If individual forum pages are properly designed, system administrators can make changes to the web site without using a low-level programming language, such as PERL, because system software automatically “manages” the questions and answers. The system itself stores questions and answers, handles categorizations, makes the distinction between current and archived questions, allows creation and editing of pages, and manages the experts and their interrelationships.
Dynamic management of the system may be achieved using flexible “templates” instead of standard, fixed HTML documents to create the web pages. These templates may serve as a basis for only one page (e.g., the home page for the treatment forum) or for hundreds of pages (e.g., the layout for the questions and answer pages). Templates differ from ordinary HTML pages in that they include commands that return information about parts of the system. These commands take the form of a standard interface to the low-level language (e.g., PERL) part of the system. By using these commands, administrators can change sections of the system easily, quickly, and without having to write or change low-level code.
A benefit of this embodiment is that real-time peer review is provided to experts. Experts in many fields rely on review by their peers to validate their opinions and research. Medical journals provide one avenue of peer review, but the publishing process of medical journals can take months. Second opinions provide another avenue for peer review, and patients frequently get a second opinion before accepting the treatment prescribed by their doctor. But, getting a second opinion can take weeks, during which the patient has to postpone treatment. Real-time peer review may speed up treatment.
Experts, such as doctors, can post answers to questions and then refer their answers to peer review personnel, such as other doctors, insurance case managers and/or other experts for a second (or third or fourth, etc.) opinion. Peer review personnel can also review answers given by other experts on their own, without being asked to do so by an expert. Users, including patients, can request that specific experts answer a question and then the users can read comments from other experts on those answers. Using the present invention, this entire review process can occur within hours, or even minutes.
As shown in
As shown in
As shown in
As shown in
As shown in
As shown in
As shown in
As shown in
As shown in
As shown in
As shown in
Systems consistent with the present invention can interact with users, experts, and administrators through presenting a series of web pages. Web pages are made up of a number of fields. To display a web page, server 114 must locate the correct data for each field in the web page. Each field has a “name”, e.g., <HEADING>, and a “value”, e.g., <Answers to Treatment Questions>. The names of corresponding values are arranged in (name, value) pairs and stored in configuration files (e.g., system.cfg).
One way in which the current system may maintain these configuration files is using a hierarchical configuration of levels. Each level may be a collection of configuration files corresponding to a part of the system. To display a web page, the system searches the configuration files at each level. The information found at the lowest level may be displayed. This allows the administrator to specify default settings at the highest level while customizing any part of the site by changing the (name, value) pairs at the corresponding level.
When the system is searching for the heading text to be displayed at the top of a page currently in the prevention category of the treatment forum, the system starts at the top (system.cfg) and looks for a <HEADING> block. The system then visits each configuration file on the way down the hierarchy (forum.cfg would next in this example). Preferably, the system would use the matching <HEADING> block it finds at the lowest level.
If the levels are arranged in a hierarchical fashion, the administrator can change or create new pages at a certain level of the system by changing the value in the correct configuration file at the level. In addition, configuration files can correspond to each expert in the system, making it possible for the administrator to maintain settings for all experts for each expert individually.
Although preferred methods for searching, generating and presenting web page information have been presented in the foregoing, it will be readily apparent to one of ordinary skill in the art that other methods may likewise be used without departing from the spirit and scope of the present invention.
Referring now to
In one embodiment, the network site 114 may provide a plurality of fora dedicated to one or more topics of interest to the public, for example, providing expert opinions on one or more medical topics as described above. One or more users 102 may interact with the network site 114 over the network 116 by submitting questions to one or more of the provided fora, and receiving responses thereto from one or more experts 108. The answers may be reviewed by peer review personnel 110, prior to or after the posting of the expert's answer to the user's question. In addition, the questions and responses may be posted to one or more fora with appropriate topic headings so that other users may access and review questions and answers of interest.
In a particular embodiment, users 102 may be members of the public who may access the fora provided by network site 114 over the Internet in order to receive medical advice pertaining to a medical condition, receive second opinions on medical treatment they are receiving, and the like. Such users 102 may be provided access to the network site 114 free of charge or they may be required to pay a fee to access the site. The fee may be charged on a per transaction basis, or may be a subscription fee to access the site for a predetermined amount of time, e.g. one month or one year. Further, the fee may be paid on behalf of a user or a group of users by a third party, such as a health plan to which the user or the group belongs or a vendor whose products may be sold to the user or the group. The fees may be collected by an operator of the network site 114 in any known manner, such as receiving credit card information from the users 102, or verifying that the fee has been paid, for example, by a third party payer 1708.
In place of fees, banner advertisements and the like may be placed on various pages presented by the network site 114 for viewing by the users 102. In such case, site traffic may be monitored in order to receive appropriate advertisement fees from the third parties 1708 who placed the banner advertisements.
Alternatively, in lieu of fees, the user may be required to submit personal information, such as demographic information, user identification information, user financial information, medical treatment information and the like, to the network site 114. Such information may be useful to the owner of the network site 114 and/or the third party provider 1708 in that the information could be used to attain advertising revenue or to build a database of potential customers based on the submitted information. Accordingly, upon the provision of such information, any fees that may be charged to access the network site 114 may be waived.
It is further contemplated that a user 102 may receive points for each submission they make to the network site 114. The points would be tracked and awarded in a manner similar to frequent flier miles, as is well known in the art. A user 102 may receive discounts on health premiums, may have access fees waived or paid for by a third party, or receive a preferred status with health care providers or insurers based on point accumulation. Alternatively, points may be issued to a user for reasons not associated with the network site. These points, in turn, may be redeemed by the user for accessing the network site. By way of example, a pharmacy may issue points to its customers based on their purchases at the physical location. Thereafter, the points may be redeemed by the customers for accessing a Q & A network site related to medical and drug topics.
In a further embodiment, the users 102 may be doctors or other medical personnel who wish to receive continuing medical education credits for accessing medical education fora that may be provided by the network site 114. Such users 102 may be provided with educational instruction in return for payment of a fee in any manner described above.
In another embodiment of the present invention, third party payers 1708, such as medical insurance providers, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), drug companies, and any other party with an interest in the subject matter of the plurality of fora offered, may provide funding to the site or may advertise their services on the site through banner advertisements. In one preferred embodiment, the third party payer 1708 may provide an unrestricted educational grant to the operator of the network site 114 in exchange for the provision of medical fora to members of the public related to particular topics, such as medical treatments, medical conditions, and the use of drugs for the same. Such grants may be of the type governed and regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In exchange for third party funding, the operator of the network site 114 may provide site traffic information to the third party payer 1708 in order to confirm that medical information is being disseminated to the public in an efficient manner. A third party payer 1708, such as an HMO, may participate in this embodiment in order to improve the quality of care of health care being received by participants and/or to reduce health costs related to a user 102 through reviewing medical or drug treatment information provided by the expert 100 and/or the user 102.
The network site 114 may also provide users 102 with a set of questions to be answered. The questions are intended to elicit how much understanding a user 102 has of a subject forum. From these submissions of answers, a report on user comprehension may be prepared and provided to third party payer 1708 in exchange for the funding. The identity of users 102 who submit responses may be omitted from such a report in order to preserve the privacy and confidentiality of each user 102. The answers to such questions may also be used to monitor the appropriateness or the outcomes of an expert's advice provided to the user 102 through the plurality of fora on the network site 114.
Experts 108 may be one or more doctors or other medical professionals who specialize in particular medical fields of interest. Peer review 110 is provided by peer review personnel, such as other doctors, other experts, administrators, insurance case managers, or other medical professionals. Experts 108 and peer review personnel may be compensated by the operator of the network site 114 in any known manner.
In one particular embodiment, it is contemplated that a third party payer 1708, such as an HMO, may operate the network site 114 as a private network. Users 102 may, in turn, be individuals who receive medical coverage from, or groups of individuals represented under a coverage plan provided by the third party payer 1708. The users 102 may be provided with user identifications and passwords to access the private network site 114. In this embodiment, the expert 108 may be a doctor who provides second opinions as to the medical treatment being received by the user and reported to the network site 114. Peer review 110 may be provided by HMO case managers and the like in order to monitor medical treatment and advice being received by the users 102. Alternatively, the users 102 may first provide medical treatment information and the like to insurance case managers, in lieu of the expert 108. The insurance case manager may then provide the medical information to an expert 108 for their second opinion.
The third party payer 1708 may, in turn, adjust medical insurance premiums or pay any access fees on behalf of the users 102 who receive second opinions from and report statuses of medical or drug treatments to the network site 114. In the case where medical insurance premium adjustments are provided, the third party payer 1708 may increase a premium for a user 102 in order to subsidize the operation of the site. Alternatively, the third party payer 1708 may decrease the premium in order to encourage use of the network site 114. As described above, use of the network site 114 may lower health costs incurred by the user 102 since the third party payer 1708 may review and approve medical and/or drug treatments being received by the user 102.
The system for managing questions and answers may be deployed at one or more network sites. As described above, the user may access a network site in order to view previously answered questions or to generate their own question. One of the advantageous features of the system in accordance with the present invention is the ability for the system to be deployed or installed at more than one network site.
The functionality of the system deployed at each network site may be global or local. By way of example, in
In an alternative embodiment, control over dissemination and distribution of information may lie exclusively with the operator of each network site. During initial configuration the particular network site may be programmed to prohibit the distribution and dissemination of information to and from other network sites. Thus, the operator of the network site can override an expert or peer review personnel command concerning on which network sites and fora to post their responses. Specifically, each network site may decide whether to post at their network site responses to user's questions generated at other network sites, and whether to permit the responses to questions generated by users at their network site to be posted at other network sites. Multiple permutations are therefore possible, since each network site may decide the following: (i) whether to rely on a group of global experts and/or peer review personnel or to select their own, (ii) whether to permit the posting of responses to questions generated at their network site on other network sites, and (iii) whether to post the responses to questions generated at other network sites on their network site. This type of modularity allows the operator of each network site to opt in/out of sharing experts, peer review personnel and/or information (e.g., questions and responses) with other network sites.
Although the invention has been described in detail in the foregoing embodiments, it is to be understood that they have been provided for purposes of illustration only and that other variations both in form and detail can be made thereupon by those skilled in the art without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention. In particular, although the operation of network site 114 is defined in terms of providing medical fora for access by the public, other types of fora may additionally or alternatively be provided, such as fora for the provision of financial advice, educational advice, career advice, or any other topic on which members of the public may seek expert opinions. Accordingly, the scope of the present invention shall not to be limited by the embodiments described above, but is to be defined solely by the appended claims.