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Friday, February 17, 2012

Reliable Quick Answers to Medical Questions on the Web




     Two weeks ago I read in the Sunday New York Times an article about a web-based consumer information service called "HealthTap." It invites both consumers and physicians to join. Consumers ask the questions. Volunteer physicians provide the answer. HealthTap started its Web site last May. It has signed up more than 9,000 physicians and is adding 100 a day. The site does not carry advertising. "Users can follow particular doctors and topics of interest; new answers related to these are displayed in an “activity feed” shown when users log on to the site. The site offers a peer-based reputation system of its own devising. Next to each answer, users see the number of doctors who agree; with a click, they can see who the approving doctors are, as well as something that HealthTap calls a “reputation level,” which is built by accumulating HealthTap awards, “Agrees” from fellow physicians and other measurable activities at the site."  

Here is a screenshot from the patient side of the website:

Here is a screenshot from my physician side of HealthTap.

      Probably the strongest feature about this site for consumers is the ability to "follow" the opinions of certain physicians who give precise, clear, practical answer. [Some of the answers are indeed too brief to be helpful.] You will be notified of new responses for the physicians that you follow. [You are certainly welcome to follow me.] 
     For the physicians it is an excellent opportunity to reach out to patients outside of the office and to do good for the community (in fact, a very big community--the whole internet!). It can also sharpen physician skills in communication. Trying to be helpful, succinct, and clear in only 400 characters [the limit for each answer] is a good mind-sharpening challenge. I find it an excellent way to both learn something and be useful in the few minutes between patients in the office. It is always informative to see the kinds of things that patients are concerned about but may not bring to the office. Some of the questions are distinctly challenging and send me to do online research so that we can both be educated at the same time. In my opinion, any way that a doctor can make more contact with the community is a good thing. 
     HealthTap offers a very sociable and time-efficient way of getting in touch with a treasure trove of physicians. Try it!

A NOTE TO MY FRIENDS IN PLUMAS COUNTY:  I will be returning to do a Saturday morning clinic on March 3rd at the Portola Clinic. The plan is for me to come back for a clinic session on the first Saturday of each month. I look forward to seeing you there.

Dr. Colin Kopes-Kerr, MD

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