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Pros and Cons of Online Doctor Consultations

Infographic: Pros and Cons of Online Doctor Consultations

In this age of Dr. Google, it's not surprising that scores of sites now offers solution to your medical problems via online consultation. But little is known about what goes on in these sites.

I don't know if you've ever sought medical advice via online consultation services, but a lot of patients do so these days. Thanks to these platforms, you can now consult with doctors at any time and from any location. Many people, however, still firmly believe that these services are chock-full of scams, though.

So, the questions that may come to your mind are:

  • Are these online consultation services worth your time and money?
  • Are these doctors providing helpful advice?

To help you get the best possible answers, in this post, I have discussed 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! However, you shouldn't self-diagnose your condition using the health and medical information provided by medical websites. This practice 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.

Also, since thousands of websites today provide medical information on given a topic, you will find it difficult to determine which information more accurate and trustworthy.

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 cost and quality of care associated with online doctor consultation are uncertain and so need to be evaluated carefully.

In a nutshell, using these online services can allow you to request advice from a variety of doctors and receive multiple responses. This medium ultimately improves the chances of getting a balance of opinions. But the quality of the medical care provided by these providers is still unknown.

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, many people think that 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.

This, in my opinion, is one of the main drawbacks of online medical consultation.

Gone are the days when doctors made assessment based on the presenting symptoms and outward appearance of the patient. Today, diagnostic reports are the primary basis on which doctors assess a patient's condition.

Even if your condition is dire, the online doctor won't be able to suggest anything unless you show your most recent diagnostic reports.

Besides that, top-tier physicians may not offer advice as candidly as they can in formal settings when consulting with patients online.

If you ask an advice, the online doctor may not go deep down to the root cause of your problem. They may at best suggest a few things, such as some medications, just to improve your present symptoms. Also, it is highly likely that they will advice you to visit your local GP or get some diagnostic tests done.

Not surprisingly, after an online consultation, you might even feel as though your money was wasted or that you should have saved it for a regular doctor visit.

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 that 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
    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
    Google Page Rank: 04
    Alexa Traffic Rank: 262,907
    Reputation by McAfee SiteAdvisor and Norton Safeweb: Safe
  5. Consult A Doctor
    Google Page Rank: 04
    Alexa Traffic Rank: 683,433
    Reputation by McAfee SiteAdvisor and Norton Safeweb: Safe

Final Thoughts

I would suggest that you should carefully weigh the pros and cons of online doctor consultations before making any decisions.

These services undoubtedly have a number of benefits, including increased access to healthcare, better than self-diagnosis, cost-effectiveness, secured privacy, and 24/7 health support.

But you should keep in mind that for serious or life-threatening conditions, online medical consultations can never replace in-person doctor visits.

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.

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.

⚠️ Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. Please consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice.