On the one hand, the Internet is flush with medical advice. Type your symptoms into Google and you can spend hours trying to self-diagnose and find cures for your health concerns. But from message boards to websites like WebMD, all of that information can be overwhelming and confusing, leaving you wondering if you have the common cold or cancer and unsure which advice to trust.
Now you can go to the doctor, but pricey co-pays and time-consuming office visits don't seem necessary if it's something minor and easily treatable at home. Sometimes you just want answers to your hypochondriatic questions (I know I do). Enter HealthTap.
The popular app allows users to ask its team of 35,000 active, U.S.-licensed doctors health-related questions for free. The free service allows users to ask a question under 150 characters. Anything longer and you're asked to give a 99 cent charitable donation. The site tries to have a response to your question within 24 hours. If you want to ask a private question to a doctor it costs $9.99, cheaper than most co-pays. The site also maintains a searchable database of questions that have already been asked (and answered).
Doctors don't get paid for contributing their knowledge, so what keeps them answering the 683 million-plus questions that have already been asked (besides just wanting to help out)? Doctors that use the site are given a "Docscore" rating. The more people they help and the more positive feedback they get the higher their rating, meaning a boost to their online reputation and potentially attracting more patients to their office. It's like Klout for doctors.
But with little money exchanged, Ariel Schwartz reports for Fast Company, the company isn't profitable yet (though they have received millions in startup funding and could raise money with ads, something they've been cautious about). But as the company's CEO Ron Gutman tells Schwartz, their services could be essential in the coming years.
Gutman believes HealthTap will really shine when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act comes online and up to 40 million previously uninsured Americans--now able to get insurance from health insurance exchanges--start searching for doctors. "We’re going to have a shortage of 45,000 primary care physicians, and what we’re going to do then depends on our ability to use technology like HealthTap to triage these people," he says.
And, of course, it's a much better than all those health message boards.
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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com