Former Sun CEO's New Venture: A Healthcare Locker for the "Sandwich Generation"

Jonathan Schwartz, the former Sun Microsystems CEO who sold the server-and-software maker to Oracle for $7.4 billion in 2009, was in the hospital for surgery a couple of months ago. When he went to get an MRI, he noticed that the imaging machine was hooked up to a Sun workstation. Sun’s most famous tag line was “the network is the computer,” so it was a bit ironic when Schwartz left the MRI suite and the radiologists handed him his scan on a CD-ROM. “Then wherever I went, they would ask me, ‘Do you have the disc?'” he recalls.

That didn’t sit well with the former math-and-economics major. So Schwartz hacked the file format for the MRI data, uploaded his image files to CareZone, and gave his doctors access to his account. Network restored—no more carrying around a physical copy of his medical files.

But what’s CareZone, you might wonder? It’s Schwartz’s own new startup, and it provides private, online data lockers intended to help people keep track of their family members’ medical care. The San Francisco- and Seattle-based company made its public debut today after more than a year and a half in stealth mode.

In effect, Schwartz the surgical patient was acting as a private alpha tester for his own product. He says he doesn’t expect other CareZone users to hack and upload their MRIs—“I don’t consider that within the norm,” he jokes. But the episode does illustrate an important aspect of modern-day healthcare, namely the fact that patients and/or their family members are expected to handle more and more of the recordkeeping and logistics that go along with an illness.

CareZone is designed with one particular audience in mind, Schwartz says: middle-aged people who are caring either for sick children or aging parents, or both. “I am a card-carrying member of the sandwich generation,” he says—he and his wife have two young children, one of whom was born with a chronic health issue, and they are also responsible for the care of five parents, including one step-parent.

“When our child was born, we faced the same problem every parent is faced with—where do we do all this?” Schwartz says. “You can e-mail some documents around, but realistically, there is a big drawer in the desk that fills up with the stuff you know is important. On the other end of the spectrum, if you have ever been in a situation where your parents have turned to you and said ‘we need some help,’ it’s a very private conversation with you and your siblings and your parents, and it can be really complicated.”

A contacts page on CareZone

At CareZone, caregivers—the startup calls them “helpers” to distinguish them from medical professionals—can set up separate online profiles for each family member under their care. For each care recipient, helpers can store key reference and contact information, medication lists, medical and legal documents, to-do lists, care instructions, and journal observations. There’s also a Facebook-like news stream where everyone with access to the account (say, a group of siblings) can leave updates and messages.

But that’s where the resemblance to Facebook ends. There’s no targeted advertising within CareZone and no complicated system for modulating privacy levels. Accounts are private, period. “It’s designed to be an entirely private space where we do not permit advertising and we can give assurance to our customers that only they are in charge of their data,” Schwartz says.

In fact, while Schwartz describes CareZone as a social network, he took great pains during an interview with Xconomy on Monday to draw contrasts between his company and other social networking players like Facebook and Google. He doesn’t have kind words for either company. (See the full interview below.)

“If you take a step back and look at the Internet over the past 15 years, it’s characterized by two things—narcissism, where everything is about me, me, me, but also by the productivity-privacy tradeoff,” Schwartz says. “We’re told ‘We will give you products for free in return for the ability to harvest information about you that we can sell to the highest bidder.’ If you think about these businesses, privacy is really toxic to them. They are faced with … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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