Note: This is simply a broad view of the type of apps available and how they work. We do not endorse any service provided by such apps. If you have any doubts about your health, consult your own physician.
As a nation, we don’t really do too well with sickness, whether physical or mental. Leaving aside the political arguments that go on about health care, the fact is that most health insurance coverage can mean delay between trying to get an appointment to see a doctor and actually seeing one. There are some examples of coverage, of course, where you will be seen the same day. But for the majority of us, that is the exception rather than the rule.
As always, the technology industry has seen a money-making opportunity in our need to believe we should be 100% healthy, 100% off the time. They came up with the idea a few years ago of seeing a doctor without, well, without actually seeing a doctor. Or at least without the delay or inconvenience of having to leave our homes to do so.
And so, we now have a whole range of ‘See the Doc’ apps available. For a fee, it must be noted – we can make an appointment and a doctor will call us back to discuss our problem. It won’t be your doctor who calls you, and possibly not even one in the same city. Yet someone will call, and there is an obvious attraction in that.
But what about the diagnosis and recommended treatment, can we trust it to be accurate? The answer is you’ll probably never know without seeing an actual doctor in a face to face appointment. To be floor-level blunt about it, you’re getting someone to guess at what might be wrong with you. It’s an educated guess, certainly, but it’s still a guess. You can show the app doc an image of a new mole on your phone or that lovely rash you have developing. But how do you describe and how does he/she diagnose a persistent cough, a sore knee or chest pains?
And of course, this is where it all start to breakdown a little bit. Few of the apps, for example, actually employ doctors. While most choosing to act as little more than a referral service. This allows them to absolve themselves of any responsibility for misdiagnosis or the wrong treatment being prescribed. They lay any blame squarely at the feet of the doctor you speak to. Oh, and at your feet as well.
In the T&Cs for every app we looked at, every one said you should use the information given as a guide. They said you should discuss what has been said in the appointment with your own physician at your earliest opportunity. They also insist that, by using the service, you indemnify them against any problems arising out of incorrect advice by the doctor.
But, to be fair, the apps may have their uses. If you have what you think isn’t a serious condition, and would have to wait several days to see your own doctor, talking to a qualified professional might not be a bad idea at all. As long as you accept the limitations of a remote appointment. It might serve to put your mind at rest and mean you won’t be worried for a week until you finally get your appointment locally. This also helps take some pressure off what are often overworked and under-resourced practices. In that respect, they may well have an important role to play.
However, it will always come back to what you expect from an app. An app which puts you in touch with someone who doesn’t know you and may not have immediate access to your medical history. If you’re happy with that, and happy to pay the relevant fee, then you may feel you have nothing to lose.
In terms of the costs, these vary quite widely from app to app. Some charge a simple one-off fee for each appointment, and others also offering a monthly subscription method. Either way, it will be an extra cost to your pocket but not, hopefully, a cost to your health.