“Yelp” for Healthcare?

Recently I posted a link to Health Tap – A new interactive social network that aims to connect doctors to patients – or rather the general public waiting to become patients.

HealthTap screenshot

“HealthTap’s free web and mobile applications enable 24/7 access to personalized, relevant and trusted health information from thousands of leading doctors, helping people find the best care and make better decisions about their health and well-being.”

Immediately this raised all sorts of red flags for me. As someone who is not directly working in the Healthcare industry but personally related to several critics in this domain, I could already sense a negative response.

Why the negative response?

1. Legal issues
If medical advice is exchanged between a medical professional and person (non-relative or even close acquaintance), there is potential risk for legal ramification. Doctors in our country are trained to exchange medical information in the appropriate legal confines of a hospital or medical office – this way there is some face-to-face interaction between doctor and patient and there is legal documentation that exchange of advice took place.

2. Work load
Giving advice – especially if serious medical advice – is MORE work for doctors. Billing this type of work would create new kinds of havoc in the world of medical billing. Perhaps it is different across the border, but in Canada, doctors do not have extra time to even go online fishing for vulnerable people to divulge advice to.

3. More Legal Issues (and inter professional relations)
How does this affect the relationship between physicians? Does it promote collegiality or competition? Imagine a scenario where one doctor recommends another specialist online! In an online social forum like HealthTap, there is going to be an imbalance of responsibility (again touching on point 1). Physicians will be putting their careers on the line and patients will get to “take shots” at them anonymously.

4. Patient selection
Let’s be honest, doctors don’t want to attract all sorts of super-neurotic, annoying patients to their practice. The more active the physician is on HealthTap, the higher the chance of them being at the helm of these irrational and often sensationalistic attackers.

The Positives

Bearing in mind the opinion of a few doctors and my own instinct, there seems to be a lot of sensitive issues tied to HealthTap’s social network for healthcare. While I do agree that the concept of a curated participatory healthcare online forum would be very helpful to all of us in the Dr. Google era, it is a very difficult model to maintain. Especially given the different policies on healthcare around the globe. While I did mention the negatives of HealthTap, it’s idealistic positive features include:

1. A way to build a reputation online among other doctors.  

2. A method of attracting new patients (keeping in mind the negatives). This is probably more suitable for the US folks.

3. Saves time for patients as they can access YOUR medical knowledge online. Note, this does not save YOU time as a physician and in fact, may cause more work down the road.

4. Better serve existing patients. Your knowledge is available 24/7 — but are YOU (the physician) available?

5. Achieve awards and recognition for helping others. Hmm… should online credibility be something that doctors strive for? This I am not so sure. I would like to know my doctor is healthy and happy and balanced in his or her life. Not someone who is tweeting medical knowledge. This may hurt the rep of a doctor if they don’t do it right…

6. Maintain peace of mind with the offered “insurance” that covers all Medical Experts for participation – Perhaps this is the golden ticket for all the participating doctors!

All in all, HealthTap is an idealistic concept. I foresee that it will be very difficult to implement as policies in Healthcare are already a sensitive subject and even more so the use of online forums as a means to offer health advice.

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