Personal Health or Medical "Ask a Doctor" Websites

Some of these "Ask an Expert" Sites are Worthless, or Even Dangerous

An ill woman using a laptop.
An ill woman using a laptop. Tetra Images/Getty Images

Websites that offer doctors as experts who are prepared to provide you with individualized, personal, one-on-one health advice are springing up in droves. Some offer advice for free. Others charge your credit card varying amounts of money by the minute or by the session.

Determining if a Personal Doctor Site is Useful

Some are good services -- they allow you to talk to your own doctor or your insurer provides you with access.

The useful services:

  • Sites that feature doctors who provide health advice through articles, blogs, or white papers to a general audience of interested people. These may be good resources or may not be good resources. You'll have to decide.
  • Sites offered to you by your insurer or even your employer. There are some excellent services that allow you access to providers who can offer individualized advice, but they are only available through subscriptions. Unless you've heard from your employer or your insurer, you don't have access to them.
  • Sites that allow you to email or chat with your own doctor. If your own doctor has a way of corresponding or chatting with you online (a service provided by some insurance companies, for example) then that's a great service. Go for it.

Detecting Worthless and Dangerous Personal Medical Advice Sites

But some of these sites are worthless or downright dangerous.

They provide you with access to an online "doctor," or someone else you don't know. Asking for personal health advice from an online doctor you don't know (you have not met with in person), or who is not a part of one of the services mentioned above is a bad idea.

Here's why this is a bad idea:

  • Doctors who are good at what they do are very busy people. They have huge patient loads. I'll even suggest that the best doctor for you is the doctor who doesn't have time to see you in person because so many other patients are on the schedule. They don't have time to provide one-on-one medical advice to people online.
  • Your body is not like anyone else's. Sure, there are similarities in body parts and systems, and sure, there may be similarities in what your symptoms mean compared to another patient; however, no doctor can chat with you online or read an email and accurately tell you what is wrong with you or what treatment you need. An online doctor has not run tests on your body. He has not looked over your personal health history.
  • No Internet doctor can treat you anyway. An Internet doctor can't write you a prescription, send you for therapy, or even order a medical test for you. That doctor is simply going to send you to a real local doctor. So now you are back to where you started, and perhaps you have spent the money you would have spent seeing the doctor you should have seen -- in person -- to begin with.
  • You have no idea whether the person providing you with advice is really a doctor. Sure, there may be a photo, and yes, you may even check out that online "doctor's" credentials, but whether or not that is the person she or he claims to be on the other end of an Internet connection cannot be proven.
  • Some of these sites are based in other countries where the "rules" are different. That's not to say that doctors from another country can't give good advice. They most certainly can -- in person. The problems stem from the laws that pertain to Internet money transactions (your credit card) and the rules that pertain to malpractice¬†and is unrelated to whether or not doctors from other countries know their medicine. That's even assuming you are actually "chatting" with a real doctor. (See statement above.)
  • No real doctor can afford to be wrong. If they are wrong, you may sue them. That means Internet "doctors" won't give you the real, personal information you need anyway. Just as with website symptom checkers, they may be able to talk with you in generalities, but at the end of the conversation, they are going to tell you to make an appointment with a real doctor, in person, anyway. That means you will have wasted the time and money you've spent for the web doctor's sham service.
  • Speaking of sham service, some of these sites are set up simply to sell you something. Having a problem with your complexion? Why not chat LIVE with "Doctor Skinsosmooth"? He can clear up those bumps. All you need to do is purchase his remarkable new complexion product.
  • And then, of course, there is the problem of sharing your credit card and personal information with these strangers. That can lead to identity theft or even medical identity theft.

There is no good that can come from spending your time or hard-earned money with a so-called personal advice online doctor you have never met or does not coordinate with your insurance or employer. Instead, take some time to learn more about your doctor, or a new doctor, then invest in your own improved health by visiting a real, in-the-flesh physician.

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