Chemo101: Denver-based website puts chemotherapy education in patients' hands
Chemo101.com, a Denver-based website designed to educate patients and caregivers about chemotherapy drugs, has welcomed over 125,000 unique visitors since it's launch in December 2010. That's equal parts impressive and sad for its president and founder, Kristin Gustafson.
"It's good for us, that we have had over 25,000 new, unique visitors per month to the site," she says. "The downside, obviously, is there are that many people out there who need information on cancer drugs and how to pay for those things. It is by far greater than what we ever thought the up-kick would be."
The free site is designed to be especially user-friendly, as the average visitor is over fifty-years-old and typically less web-savvy than younger folks. It specializes in educating visitors about chemo agents and their side effects, treatment payments, insurance basics, patient assistant programs and more.
"I've worked in oncology for about fifteen years from the drug manufacturing or the pharmaceutical side, and I learned over the years that drug companies seem to be getting further and further away from the patient focus," says Gustafson, who is one of two full-time employees at Chemo101.
Gustafson was the Vice President of Human Resources for MGI Pharma. She also worked in HR for tech companies -- but as she put it, "Once you've worked for a company that is helping the lives of cancer patients,-+ you can never go back to selling widgets."
Gustafson also consulted for a number of pharmaceutical companies, as well as the American Cancer Society, which helped inspire her site.
"I always say the American Cancer Society is a great resource, but they're trying to boil the ocean," says Gustafson. "We're not trying to be all things to all people. We want to help in the area specifically of chemotherapy drugs and the payment and financial information around that. There is really nothing else on the web about those two specific things."
Chemo101.com has a simple layout, with large tabs highlighting three main areas: Diagnosis, Treatment and Drug Information. Gustafson creates all the content on the site and runs it with help from a nursing or physician advisory board, whose members range from former nurses form the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers to oncologists from Johns Hopkins University. Thorough descriptions of drugs use only FDA-approved wording.
"I always tell people to start by understanding what drugs your doctor put you on," Gustafson says. "What is the treatment protocol? Then start by going through and reading as much information as you can."
The site shares plenty of advice from oncology nurses, who have limited time to educate patients.
"Our goal is to have a lot of credibility and partner up with these nursing groups," she notes, "so when the nurses send people to a web site, they send them to our site and feel comfortable doing so."
The finances of treatment are also a big focus. Gustafson points out that 79 percent of those diagnosed with cancer will undergo chemotherapy -- and 30 percent of people diagnosed with cancer file for bankruptcy.
"The other thing I tell people is to never leave the site until you understand payment and what is involved with that," she says. "There are so many rules and regulations when it comes to what insurance will pay for and what they won't pay for. What does my insurance cover and what questions do I need to ask my doctor, my nurse or the social worker at the clinic on the financial side so I don't end up cured of cancer, but in a financial mess?"
The site has partnered with Whole Foods and is looking to secure other sponsors so it can remain free to visitors. In addition to seeing a lot of traffic, Chemo101.com is hooking its visitors. Gustafson says the average visitor stays on the site for eight minutes and views four to six pages.
According to her, "They're staying, they're reading, they're understanding, and that's what we're hoping helps our credibility over time."
More from our Politics archive: "Carla Madison, Denver City councilwoman, dies after cancer battle: Colleagues pay tribute."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.