The Online Medical Visit … For Free

Posted on January 3, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

In every situation online it seems like at some point someone takes the business model as deep as it goes and then someone just finally says, “Let’s make it free.” Readers of this site will be familiar with the leading Free EHR companies Mitochon and Practice Fusion (both advertisers on this site). They both seem to be doing really well and are working on some really interesting business models.

With my familiarity with the Free EHR business model, I was intrigued when I read about HealthTap’s model for basically providing an online medical visit for free. This was particularly interesting since I knew that HealthTap had received $11.5 million in funding recently.

Andy Oram summarizes what HealthTap is trying to solve really well:

In this digital age, HealthTap asks, why should a patient have to make an appointment and drive to the clinic just to find out whether her symptoms are probably caused by a recent medication? And why should a doctor repeat the same advice for each patient when the patient can go online for it?

Plus, he makes two important observations of what HealthTap has found:
1. Doctors will take the time to post information online for free.
2. Doctors are willing to rate each other.

It’s pretty interesting when you think about how many doctors visits could be saved using something like HealthTap. On face, I’d think that a site like this wouldn’t make much sense. Although, as I think back on my medical experiences I can think of about a dozen or so times where I tapped into my physician friends before going to the doctor. Basically, I wanted to know if going to the doctor would be worth my time or not. In about 90% of those cases I ended up not going to the doctor since the doctor wouldn’t have really been able to do much for me anyway.

As I think through these experiences, I realize that many people aren’t lucky enough to be like me and have lots of physician friends around to ask the casual medical question. I could see how HealthTap could fill that role.

One key to this model is that it doesn’t always replace the visit to the physician. In fact, in a few cases I was told that I’d need an X-ray and that I better go see the doctor. In that case I was more likely to go to the physician since I knew I needed to get something done. I already knew the physician would do something for me when I went so I didn’t have the fear that they just tell me to take some Tylenol and be careful with it.

I’m not quite sure if doctors would be glad to actually have only people that are sick visiting their office or not. Maybe they enjoy the break of the easy patient that doesn’t require any effort on their part.

I think there are still questions about the quality of information that patients will get on HealthTap. This is going to be the most interesting issue to follow. No doubt they’re going to be toeing a fine line called medical advice. However, whether it’s HealthTap or some other online source that someone likely finds through Google, people are going to be looking for this kind of health information online. The idea of a free online medical visit sounds good to me.

Let’s also not be surprised if the Free EHR vendors eventually get into online visits as well. Seems like a natural progression for them to offer this service if they wanted to go that direction. From what I understand they have plenty on their plates right now, but a few years from now it could get pretty interesting.