One effect of the growing mHealth industry is the creation of interesting new ways in which patients, physicians, and other stakeholders are being connected – patients and physicians via FaceTime, connecting physicians to eachother, and even patients to their insurance company. HealthTap is a unique medical service launched on Tuesday that adds yet another dimension to how we communicate by allowing patients to get in direct contact with an expert physician for free via a smartphone.

The free HealthTap Express app available for both iOS and Android is a question and answer style app where patients can ask any questions and receive help from an expert physician who has volunteered to help via this service. There are over 5000 US-licensed physicians taking part in the scheme already and it is expected that many more will join soon.

As the folks at healthTap describe it,

5,000 doctors at your fingertips – with no waiting room, no copay, anytime, anywhere – for free! In addition, HealthTap Express allows people to get answers to any health question from thousands of America’s best doctors, at home or on the go, and gives doctors a Virtual Practice, where they answer real patient questions in real time, helping build their reputation, attract new patients and improve the quality of care.

HealthTap’s free web and mobile applications enable 24/7 access to personalized, relevant health information to help users find the best care and make better decisions about their health and well-being. Physicians participate on HealthTap to better serve existing patients and connect with potential new patients, all whilst demonstrating their expertise and commitment to helping people everywhere. In addition, they can build a social media presence – something many current physicians struggle with, yet is going to be increasingly important to building and maintaining patient panels.

Take a patient with sickle cell disease (SCD) living in a low-prevalence area. The absence of high-volume referral centers may mean a delay or lack of potential beneficial treatments. It’s not hard to imagine how a young patient with SCD may connect with a distant hematologist and discover available therapy. One could imagine the same scenario repeated itself for a patient with a rare malignancy in a low-prevalence area. An active physician on this kind of platform could reach patients all over the country.

As always, though, the elephant in the room is liability. healthTap appears to try to get around this by making it extraordinarily clear that there is no “patient-physician” relationship created. As they state in their Terms of Use,

While HealthTap Medical Experts are not your personal doctor or healthcare provider, and they do not practice medicine on or through HealthTap, they can be a resource for reliable, relevant general health information. You can even find tips (created by experts and others) that may be useful for you, which you can use to create your personalized health checklist.

And if that wasn’t clear enough,

We do not offer medical advice and are not a doctor. HealthTap is not a doctor and the use of HealthTap does not create a doctor-patient relationship.

HealthTap Express illustrates yet another way mobile technology can be used to improve doctor-patient communication. With the recent news that FaceTime is HIPAA compliant, one could argue that we are getting ever closer to the ability to conduct entirely virtual clinics. With the advent of HealthTap Express, patients will no longer need to resort to trawling google for a condition that explains their symptoms.

Source: HealthTap

Satish Misra, MD contributed to this post