HealthTap, an app that lets users ask questions of doctors and get almost immediate answers in written form, is a hypochondriac's dream. (Sample question that pops up on my screen: What's the best way to increase and boost testosterone levels to the peak?") Over 100 million people have asked questions of the 60,000 doctors signed up to the service since its launch in 2011.
But founder Ron Gutman now wants to take HealthTap further, providing actual health care in addition to information. This week, he launched HealthTap Prime, a subscription program that includes video consults with doctors, constantly curated health news, and app recommendations from doctors, customized wellness checklists, and prescriptions. The basic HealthTap service will remain free.
Gutman divided the new service into three modules: learn, get help, and take action. The "learn" module includes customizable Facebook-like feeds for patients that offer doctor-recommended health news and apps. The "get help" module offers immediate access form any mobile device to licensed physicians using text, voice, and video. Appointments don't need to be scheduled in advance. Doctors can also prescribe medication.
At launch, this feature will be available to about 70% of the U.S. population (doctors can only practice in the states where they're licensed, so the whole population will only be covered when HealthTap has on-call doctors in every state).
Finally, the "take action" module consists of checklists--for example, a list of ways to handle heart disease--offered up to patients by their HealthTap doctors, who have access to any health records the patients provide, along with their HealthTap history.
"We don't see ourselves as telemedicine," says Gutman. "The idea here is that there's a much bigger end to end experience."
Not every HealthTap doctor can participate in Prime; they have to apply and go through training. Gutman won't disclose how much they're paid. "They get paid for every consult. It's exactly like the real world," he says. They can practice from the app, do live video from an app, iPad, or iPhone."
It's not the only app offering remote consultations with doctors. For example, a startup backed by the prestigious Mayo Clinic launched its own service earlier this year. For HealthTap's service, patients pay $99 per month, plus $10 per month extra for each additional family member. Unlike most other services that offer video appointments with doctors, no one-off consultations are available.
"It's more than just transactional. We want people to stay in touch beyond the acute situation," says Gutman. It's kind of like the normal doctor-patient relationship, in other words--except without the commute and long wait for an appointment. We haven't had the chance to test out the virtual visits, however, so their utility remains to be seen.
[Image: Doctor via Shutterstock]