Monday, February 6, 2012

Social Network Medicine is a Bad Idea

I like social networking as much as the next person and as an "early adopter" medical blogger no one can accuse me of not being dialed into "The World Wide Web" or "The Facebook".  But my embracing of mobile health stops when I read about a new start up that was mentioned in the New York Times  this week.  HealthTap is a concept that I hope doesn't make it.

HealthTap is a start-up based in Palo Alto, Calif (where all good start-ups are born) and consumers can post health questions  that are answered by physicians who log on.  After this free medical advice is given,  the readers can click the agree or thank button and the most popular doctors get a "Doogie Howser Award" or a "Dr. Healthcliff Huxtable Award."  Just writing this makes me feel so cheap!

What is the  point of all of this?  I am not really sure.  There are social network features on the site and maybe they will develop games and quizzes.  There are phone numbers and maps so you can make appointments with d of course lots of health advertising.   HealthTap  doesn't list the physicians specialty but the doctor can accumulate a "reputation level" depending upon the number of awards and "agrees" they get from other activities.  It is really corny.

The only requirement for a physician to participate (I can't imagine any busy qualified physician participating!) is that he/she has a license in the U.S.  HealthTap answers are limited to 400 characters so it is a bit like twitter advice from a stranger who may or may not have knowledge about a topic.

I don't know if this new site (mobile app available too) will catch on or not.  There does seem to be an insatiable need for medical knowledge and people do like to ask health questions and get answers for free. The problem is that credible information doesn't come in 400 character sound bites from people who just happen to have a medical degree.

I love the idea of sharing knowledge on the internet but I'm not interested in a Doogie Howser award, especially since he was a 14 year old and not even real.


oc1dean said...

As a stroke survivor there is no doctor in the world that would know any answers to my questions but other survivors might. For us social media is the only place to possibly get some answers and if it takes something like this to expose all the naked emperors out there all the better.

gradydoctor said...

I agree. Ick.

Did you see the kid who made the YouTube video about his symptoms? said...

At, an online cancer support network, we match people based on their specific diagnosis to peers and resources that can help. Peer support cannot replace the doctor-patient relationship. But people going through similar circumstances can offer critical insight and perspectives as to what it really means to live with certain medical decisions. People are having more productive conversations with the health team based on knowledge gleaned from other "patient-experts."

Steven Reidbord MD said...

I joined HealthTap in mid-December and have been fairly active on the site. I agree the awards are insufferably corny. I wish they'd end most of the "social media" aspects and instead emphasize the large knowledge-base (ie, database of knowledge) they are amassing. Many questions are repetitive or poorly worded, and I'm sorry to say that some of the physicians' responses aren't especially thoughtful either. And then there's the problem that despite disclaimers to the contrary, many lay users do appear to seek personal medical advice from the online doctors they've never met, an inherently bad idea.

On the other hand, most of the MD replies are fairly simple and accurate answers to simple questions — the sort that can be answered concisely in a short paragraph. Nearly 10,000 US MDs are currently participating, including many "busy, qualified" ones from prestigious academic centers, former department chairs, etc. If nothing else, the myriad questions on the site highlight how much need exists for better ways to disseminate medical information to the public.

In short, HealthTap is an idea with a lot of faults, and a lot of merit as well. I've expressed my reservations to their leadership, and most recently admitted I'd "lost my enthusiasm" about participating owing to inherent flaws in their design. Nonetheless, in my view there's enough that's good about answering people's simple medical questions (e.g., What are non-medication treatments for anxiety? What are the features of borderline personality? Which antidepressants cause anorgasmia?) that I'm still answering a question here and there. I reviewed HealthTap on my own blog at:

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