Consumer Watch: Where to find best online medical advice

Consumer Watch: Where to find best online medical advice

August 10th, 2014 by Ellen Phillips in Business Diary

Ellen Phillips

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

With my 62-year-old "baby" sister having undergone major surgery in June and a stint in rehab thereafter (the latter miserable experience definitely a column for another occasion), my days and nights have been filled with medical research and advice to help all of us cope. Frankly, it's surprising in retrospect that my own February surgery didn't seem quite as traumatic as Nan's, other than the fact that I was out of it for the first couple of weeks because of heavy duty pain meds.

The July issue of Reader's Digest featured an article about obtaining online medical advice anytime and anywhere, a piece so informative I felt it important enough to share with readers. As long as the matter isn't urgent enough to warrant a face-to-face with Doctor Deliverance, this "telemedicine" approach can save time, money, and relief. Just be sure to follow up promptly with your family physician as soon as possible. While I'm sure many more apps/websites are available, the following tele-advice have Reader's Digest "Seal of Approval."

1. Doctor on Demand is an app ( that allows a board-certified MD to offer advice about a specific problem, whether it's an ill child in the middle of the night who coughs nonstop with a high fever or your mother-in-law who refuses to go to the ER but who obviously needs some quick medical assistance. The app offers 24/7 access to U.S.-affiliated physicians who specialize in OB/GYN, pediatrics, internal medicine, and other specialties. As the app opens, you list the patient's symptoms, any allergies, or meds he or she currently takes. Then, for $40, you'll video- chat with an area doctor who can talk you through symptoms, prescribe medications, and refer you or the patient to a local specialist or the ER if necessary.

2. HealthTap ( connects you to more than 50,000 doctors and dentists from all over the United States for peer-checked answers to medical questions. In fact, you can even search and research any topic of interest to you or to the patient, as well as ask questions you want answered or confirmed. What's really great about this app is its peer checks and balances for review and accuracy so, not only can you look at a variety of opinions, but also find the ones with the greatest number of consensus.

3. Pingmd ( looks to be the best app around to directly confer with one's own personal MD via text, video, or picture, whenever it's necessary. For example, I often must get moles or other suspicious areas assessed and removed, since I've had Melanoma in the past. I was glad recently to discover an app entitled "UM Skin Check" that signals me on my IPhone each month to take a video of my body to check for unusual signs. If one occurs, all I need do is send the picture(s) to my dermatologist who then either replies herself or passes it along to one of her colleagues for response. Each "ping" is saved in my chart for future reference, such as letting me know if I should come in sooner than later to get the mole or whatever checked out in person. Unfortunately, out of approximately 1 million practicing physicians nationwide, only about 10,000 currently use this free service. On the other hand, it certainly wouldn't hurt to ask your own Dr. Feelgood to join Pingmd; his other patients, as well, will appreciate your gesture.

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears each Sunday. You may contact her at