Can Your Health Problems Be Solved in 400 Characters or Fewer?

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A Palo Alto-based startup called HealthTap is attempting to bring health care into the age of texting. Yes, that’s as bizarre as it sounds.

Here’s how it works. You go to the HealthTap Web site or download an app. You then text a short medical query to HealthTap, which is then presented to the doctors who subscribe to the service. One or more doctors responds to your text message — with responses of no more than 400 characters.

The service is a strange breed of physician social network, where doctors sign up and provide some level of question answering for free, in return for some level of notoriety on the service. While docs are required to be licensed in the U.S., the New York Times noted that board certification is not required.

Among the company’s backers, says TechCrunch, is none other than Google chairman Eric Schmidt. It’s been about a year since Google shuttered its own health records management service.

The interesting question is whether a service like this is good for patients. On one hand, being able to ask a question of a doctor (even if that question is very short) might make some level of health interaction possible for a wider group of people. On the other hand, there is no real substitute for going to see your doctor — even if many real-world doctors won’t speak more than 10 words to their patients as they rush to see as many patients as possible in the shortest amount of time.

I have a few concerns about this service. The doctors who particpate in it are unlikely to be the ones in most demand, with the most experience. Then again, what are the chances that the average patient will have access to a doctor like that in person? Not everybody gets an appointment with House, M.D.

The company will need to find a way to make money to sustain viability. And, of course, patients need more than just a text message or a 400 character reply for good medical treatment.

But it might be a useful middle ground. There are a lot of times people avoid going to the doctor because of how long it takes or how expensive. Being able to ask a physician whether something’s potentially serious enough to warrant a visit might send more people to in-person care who need in-person care.

Can healthcare really be one tap away? Post below and let me know what you think.

Lucine found Denise Amrich’s article posed a number of questions, such as: Where is medicine heading? and Is there any value in texting or tweeting health care? Share your thoughts with us.

Denise Amrich is a Registered Nurse who also has 20 years of operations, logistics, and editorial management experience. She is the health care advisor for the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute, and a mentor for the Virtual Campus at Florida's Brevard Community College. Denise co-founded ZATZ Publishing, and has been the managing editor for its magazines since 1997. She was previously the managing editor for a number of Ziff-Davis technology publications.

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