What about HealthTap?

I guess you have heard about HealthTap, I even saw Ron Gutman’s talk at Stanford a few months ago. I’ve never thought that letting patients ask questions and letting physicians answer these questions without providing clear credentials, without knowing or seeing the patient in person is a good idea. To be clear, I think it’s a very dangerous idea, because people will probably use the service and while this Q&A approach would work in all areas, medicine is an exception. Practicing medicine happens in person, through real doctor visits, or even when online communication between doctor and patient is encouraged, a first real meeting is required (remember the model of Jay Parkinson,MD?).

I just found a great article covering this issue. An excerpt:

[U]sers post questions and doctors post brief answers. The service is free, and the doctors aren’t paid. Instead, they engage in gamelike competitions, earning points and climbing numbered levels. They can also receive nonmonetary awards — many of them whimsically named, like the “It’s Not Brain Surgery” prize, earned for answering 21 questions at the site.

So far, so good. But there’s more. The professional credentials of the physician answering your question, such as a board-certified specialty, are not available on the site. Instead, you get a crowdsourced “reputation level” built up by accumulating HealthTap awards, by  clicks of approval from other doctors and by other measurable activities at the site.

The advice itself is limited to 400 characters, a length the Times worries is “hardly well-suited for providing nuanced answers to some medical questions.”

I would love to hear what you think!