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Getting Medical Advice Is Often Just A Tap Away


If you have health concerns and want guidance right away without going to the ER or making a doctor's appointment, there's an app for that. Several actually. New apps like HealthTap connect people with board-certified doctors via teleconferences and online question forums. Users can pay a monthly fee for unlimited video calls to doctors on the site. Their medical history is carried with them electronically and they can check in anytime, anywhere.

HealthTap can't do everything a real doctor's visit can accomplish, but it does offer people who may live far from a health provider, or who can't afford a typical office visit, the option to consult with a professional. Dr. Jonathan Leander Po, an infectious disease physician at the University of Arizona and a doctor for HealthTap, says that questions about Ebola are coming up more frequently.

JONATHAN LEANDER PO: Certainly, there's been more inquiries regarding Ebola and more questions that really are based on a certain amount of anxiety regarding this viral infection. And within the context of telemedicine, it does provide great service to the general public in terms of being able to answer the questions that people have in a more immediate manner as opposed to having to wait to make an appointment to see your doctor or to go to a busy emergency room and have to wait there.

In terms of the amount of misinformation that's circulating around this illness, the format of telemedicine can provide a lot of clarity to the situation especially when you're getting it from vetted physicians from the United States.

RATH: I'm curious if you have a sense, based on the sort of questions people are asking about Ebola, if the public seems to you to be well-informed about the disease and the risks involved.

PO: It seems to be a mixed bag. There's enough information out there to confuse any person especially when the situation changes from day to day. What ends up happening is that, say a patient who has symptoms of a fever - high grade fever and muscle aches and pains and a cough - does remember the fact that Ebola does present with symptoms just like the flu, but may not necessarily realize that because of the geographical nature of this disease they may not actually have it, just because they're living in California, as opposed to having come back from Western Africa recently and being exposed to people with Ebola.

RATH: You may have seen it in some of the reporting on HealthTap - some people have joked that this kind of a dream for hypochondriacs. From your sense of the people you've talked to, are they coming to you with, you know, reasonable complaints? Or does it seem to be disproportionately people that don't have anything wrong with them?

PO: Well, we actually field questions from a great variety of people. And yes, sure, there are a certain number of people that are much more anxious about their condition. In fact, I think that the technology does benefit the greater good of healthcare because we're now able to field questions online at anytime of the day from people who have greater anxiety over their condition rather than having to have these patients go into the emergency room, or else call their primary care doctor, and take up the time of an already very busy physician at a time when there's certainly a lot less physicians out there than what our population demands.

RATH: Doctor John Leander Po is an infectious diseases physician in the University of Arizona Health Network and an infectious disease specialist on the app HealthTap. Doctor Po, thank you very much.

PO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.