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Pros and Cons of Online Doctor Consultations

Doctors stethoscopeIn these days of Dr. Google, it's not surprising that scores of sites often invite you to ask unseen medical professionals a question, though little is known about what occurs on these sites.

I don't know whether you've used these services yet or not, but today many patients are seeking advice online from doctors they have never met. However, many are still out there who strongly believe these services are jam-packed with scam activities. So, the questions you may ask:
  • Are these online consultation services worth your time and money?
  • Are these doctors providing helpful advice?
To help you in getting the best possible answers, in this post, I would like to discuss the pros and cons of online medical consultations.

Some of the Pros of Online Health Consultation

Seeking online health advice isn't illegal, it's an effective means of getting professional medical advice. Although I believe strict regulatory guidance and administration is required to help patients avoid online frauds, but there are some clear advantages of online doctor consultations. These include:
  • No Location Boundaries. I believe this is the most important advantage of these services. You can gain access to reputed doctors that otherwise would not be available to you. Not only that, you can also get medical advice in places where it's not possible. Therefore, I think these services could provide remarkable benefits to you, if you're homebound, in rural areas, or in other settings that limit your access to conventional treatment options.
  • Better than Self-Diagnosis. How many times you've used Dr. Google to search symptoms of diseases or conditions? Maybe, countless times! But, believe me or not, relying on health and medical information provided by medical sites to self-diagnose your condition is as dangerous as misleading.

    Reading health and medical articles using the internet can give you some ideas about your current health condition, but it can never be a substitute for consulting a doctor. Because, without an expert advice (and a proper diagnosis), you won't be able to identify what underlying causes are behind your condition.

    Moreover, today thousands of online sites provide information on health and medical issues. And, chances are high that the information could be scams or dodgy.
  • Cost Effective. In these days of hefty medical bills, the appeal for low-cost healthcare is strong among patients. While an average doctor visit costs around $120 - $150 without insurance, online medical consultations range from $25 to $80 without insurance.
  • Secured Privacy. I'm not sure this point really fits in here or not, but there is a certain reason for putting it here. Unlike many, some people seek online contact with doctors they have never met because they value the confidentiality for sensitive medical topics or conditions.
  • Slightly Better than Telemedicine Services. Online doctor consultations have a slight advantage than telemedicine. You can take your time to write a detailed description of your condition. Also, you can submit your previous and current medical reports.
  • 24/7 Health Support. Most online health service providers offer twenty-four-hour access to doctor consultation and the convenience of receiving care at home.

Cons of Online Medical Consultations

A recent study, published this year in the Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, concluded that the quality of the information and cost-effectiveness of online doctor consultation are uncertain and need to be evaluated carefully. Briefly, the study noted that although these online services might answer your request for advice, and the potential for multiple answers from different physicians creates the likelihood for better balance and breadth of opinions, but the quality of the medical care by these providers are still unclear.
Despite the service has a number of pros, but it also has some cons. As more and more scammers and spammers are occupying internet, online consultation between patient and doctor also brings some potential risks. These include:
  • Lack of Confidentiality. As I've mentioned above, some patients choose online health advice from an unknown medical professional so that they can talk about sensitive health issues. But privacy violation is a very common issue in cyber space: Even big companies like facebook, google, and yahoo are reported to violate consumers privacy.
  • A New Door for Drug Abusers. There is no doubt that online medical consultation can diminish the location boundaries. But it also opens a new door for selling prescription drugs unethically. For this reason, still many people think the service is a totally fraud or illegal business. They also believe this consultation service is provided for abusers who are willing to risk it all and try to get away with getting medications online.

    However, they are not wrong at all. Thousands of con websites are out there that indeed perform scam operations targeting on selling cheap prescription medications online.
  • Limited Options to Evaluate the Quality. Unlike the traditional doctor consultation, the online service provides limited options for patients to evaluate the quality of care and professional associations of providers.

    During an online session, patients can only select doctors in person, practice context. In addition, reputation of the site offers some negligible guideposts to evaluate the quality. So, I believe there are some transparency issues with the service, as you need to seek health advice without even the basic signs of the doctor's degree on the wall, the office space, or face-to-face contact. Finally, the secrecy of doctors on many sites also challenges liability and continuity of the online medical care.
  • Confined Doctor Advice. I believe this is one of the important disadvantages of online health advice. Today patients' physical appearance is less important than their diagnostic reports and doctors evaluate patients' condition primarily based on those reports. Also, it doesn't matter what the qualification of the online doctor is. Because, if you need an advice in serious condition, he/she couldn't be able to suggest anything definitely without your current diagnostic reports.

    Moreover, when reputed doctors are consulting with patients online, they can never give suggestions as openly as they can in their official settings. So, no doubt, if you ask an advice, your online doctor would only give you some ideas about your present health condition. In addition, if the doctor is a qualified one, he/she must advice you to have a visit with your regular GP and perform some diagnosis.

    Not surprisingly, in the end of an online session, you might even feel that you've just wasted your money or you could have saved the money for a regular doctor visit.
Finally, I want to thank you for having patience in reading this article. I've written the above pros and cons of online medical consultation based on my personal thoughts and a review published in the Health Affairs, which I've cited below as a reference of this article.

online doctor consultation

Some Online Doctor Sites You can try

Here is a list of five online health consultation sites that you can use in your quest for medical information and understanding. However, I need to mention I've listed these sites based on their reputation, alexa traffic rank, and google page rank. But, definitely, there is a possibility that I might be wrong in evaluating them. So, I'm requesting you to make a comment in my comment section if I've misjudged any of the sites below.
  1. Justanswer
    Google Page Rank: 06
    Alexa Traffic Rank: 1,865
    Reputation by McAfee SiteAdvisor and Norton Safeweb: Safe
  2. My.Clevelandclinic.org
    Google Page Rank: 07
    Alexa Traffic Rank: 14,974
    Reputation by McAfee SiteAdvisor and Norton Safeweb: Safe
  3. Healthcaremagic
    Google Page Rank: 04
    Alexa Traffic Rank: 18,311
    Reputation by McAfee SiteAdvisor and Norton Safeweb: Safe
  4. Consult A Doctor
    Google Page Rank: 04
    Alexa Traffic Rank: 683,433
    Reputation by McAfee SiteAdvisor and Norton Safeweb: Safe

Medical References

Miller TE, & Derse AR (2002). Between strangers: the practice of medicine online. Health affairs (Project Hope), 21 (4), 168-79 PMID: 12117127

Briet JP, Hageman MG, Blok R, & Ring D (2014). When Do Patients With Hand Illness Seek Online Health Consultations and What Do They Ask? Clinical orthopaedics and related research PMID: 24442841

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