When Janice Guthrie was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer, she looked beyond the usual radiation therapy and found other treatment options. Wanting to help others get the information they needed to make informed medical decisions, Guthrie launched The Health Resource Inc., a medical-information service in Conway, Arkansas. In 1984, she quit her administrative job at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, took $2,700 from the family savings account (for office equipment, letterhead and advertising), and placed classified ads in health magazines. She used direct mail to promote in-depth medical/legal research services to attorneys.
"When a new client calls, I take the person's medical history or ask for a fax of their medical records," Guthrie says. Each time a client requests information, Guthrie conducts new computer searches and draws on information stored in her extensive files.
"The client may have been diagnosed with breast cancer or with a rare blood disorder," says Guthrie. "We tailor each report to the client's education level. We provide reports--full texts of articles, not summaries--and send free updates throughout the year. I advise clients to take the information to a specialist and to set a time to decide about treatment."
The Health Resource Inc.'s gross revenues have increased from $700 in 1984 to $350,000 in 1996. Guthrie now employs four clerical staff members and seven researchers, some freelance. The researchers all have medical backgrounds and use medical school libraries, academic and public libraries, the Internet, and health and medical books purchased by Guthrie, who pays royalties for each use of copyrighted print or electronic information.
"You should enjoy digging into books and working on a computer," Guthrie says. "My science background helps me to understand medical terminology. Without a science education, I would need a partner with medical expertise, such as a nurse or medical transcriptionist."
Other potential clients for medical-information services can include hospitals, health-maintenance organizations, physicians, and industries concerned about health-care costs.