HealthTap, the popular service that gives people a platform to ask doctors every hypochondriac question that they can come up with, now has an app to make it even easier. Talk to Docs, a voice-controlled app, lets patients share their fears directly with doctors (almost) without lifting a finger.
If you want an answer to a very simple medical question, there is little reason to go to a doctor’s office these days. You can just use Google. If that doesn’t yield the expected answers, many doctors let patients email them with questions. And then there is HealthTap, the company that has persuaded more than 50,000 physicians to answer medical questions for free, mostly by creating a rating system to help doctors boost their online reputation as well as their brick-and-mortar practice.
On HealthTap’s front page right now are answers from doctors to questions like “What will I do to obtain a flat tummy and big breast?” and “Have a constant headache, low grade fever & swollen feet for 3 weeks. Ct scan of head and CBC normal. No relief with prednisone or pain meds. Help?” The service is free, unless you want to ask a question longer than 150 characters (that’s 99 cents) or have a private online chat with a doctor (that’s $9.99).
HealthTap has an active and engaged user base. But after conducting focus groups, the company discovered a significant portion of its users–including busy moms–wanted a user interface that didn’t require two hands to operate.
So HealthTap created Talk to Docs, a separate 99-cent app that requires very little interaction with your phone: Just press a button, ask a question, and wait for it to be translated into machine language. The app will ask if you want it to read you doctor answers that are already in the HealthTap database. If you don’t, you can opt to send your question directly to doctors, who could take as little as a few minutes to respond (when I’ve used HealthTap, I’ve found that it generally takes about 5 to 10 minutes for a response).
“The reason that we’re very excited about voice is that it takes us one step forward in the whole notion of using technology to personalize interaction,” says Ron Gutman, founder and CEO of HealthTap. “People using the app … they don’t only find it more effective, but they actually feel that they are more connected.” Gutman admits that the voice recognition technology is far from perfect, but says it’s a work in progress that will improve.
Don’t download HealthTap or Talk to Docs if you’re looking for in-depth advice. If you ask questions that a remote doctor can’t answer, they’ll deflect and tell you to see a doctor in person. But if you have burning questions about how to relieve hot flashes or whether it’s okay to chew your vitamins, it could be the place for you.