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Mobile Applications

Text-a-doc app: A more sensitive Google?

My expectations were very low when I decided to try this text-a-doc app by First Opinion. I liked the idea of being assigned a ‘personal doctor’, one that I could carry around in my pocket and bother with endlessly paranoid questions about my health. Of course, it can never beat real face-to-face interaction which I have talked about previously, but the app could be quite useful for issues that in reality you would never bother to follow up on with a face-to- face appointment. But I didn’t think it would be that easy to get connected to a “virtual doctor”. I was wrong.

It turns out, it is really easy to get in touch with a “real” doctor. This is a trained but most likely unlicensed doctor in the First Opinion’s network . You sign up with a first name and email address and the app asks for your age and gender. After that, the match assigns you your personal doctor and you can get chatting straight away. I was matched with a female doctor in India, and given a glimpse of her profile which gave a bit of information about her background and how long she’s been practicing. She messaged me immediately with a “Hi!” But she did warn me that she was “wrapping something up”.

I started telling her about my symptoms. Of course I didn’t tell her I had cheated and already been to an in-person doctor but I thought this was a good way to test her advice out and see if she offered anything different. She responded within a few minutes with a list of things that could be causing the symptoms with plenty of “awws”, sad faces, and smiley faces. I guess this was her virtual bedside manner coming out which didn’t really do anything for me, but it made the exchange less formal. She also asked a series of questions and gave more information in turn.

The symptoms I described related to a possible ear infection and my in-person doctor was able to assess me quickly which enabled her to narrow out other possible causes. She was able to do this by observing the way I walked in and how I communicated with her. The app doctor, however, gave a broader range of possible causes for the symptoms and mentioned one or two that the in-person doctor had missed. Some of her questions were similar to the ones my in-person doctor had asked but as the communication was written, a clear advantage was of having a slightly more in-depth discussion that could be referred to later as well.

So the initial advice was quite impressive but how reliable is the source? A deeper look into the terms of use on the apps site reveals that “the services provided are not licenced by any state in the United States”. Furthermore, there is a lack of accountability by the company on the information given to users. In the terms of use, it says, “and does not have control over the quality, reliability, timing, legality, integrity, authenticity, accuracy, appropriateness, provision or failure to provide, or responsiveness of the information provided by or to the ”Drs”.

Also, I’m not sure if the doc gave me anything that I could not have found myself by doing a simple Google search. Of course this would be different if the doc was licenced. Then I would know I am getting reliable information for which the doc is fully accountable. So what is the difference between this and Google besides a perhaps more sympathetic exchange?

Still, there were positives. After giving me her initial thoughts I tried to push her on giving me a clear diagnosis and she advised me to get evaluated in person. And her responses were quick for an app that said it can take up to 24 hours to respond under the free version. The company is also doing well. It has managed to raise $6 million of funding from Polaris Ventures. In total, the company has a funding of $8.6 million and the CEO believes in its potential, saying it’s a “new class of care” and that the app will cut unnecessary office visits.

I don’t agree that this app comes under a different “class of care” when it does not accept accountability for any of its services.  Still, the app is surprisingly good for what it offers. Just don’t count on it.

 

Ayesha Salim is Staff Writer at IDG Connect

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Ayesha Salim

Ayesha Salim is Staff Writer at IDG Connect

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