The release of HealthTap’s mobile app Monday coincides with another big announcement by the Palo Alto-based startup: Its network of physicians, which consisted of only 500 members 20 weeks ago, has jumped to more than 5,000.
The app, which offers the most popular features of HealthTap’s online network, allows patients to easily ask health-related questions and receive replies from the company’s network of MDs, among other features.
If a patient likes a particular answer to a question, he can access the doctor’s “virtual practice”—like a Yelp page for a doctor—and reach out directly. For physicians, it is a great way to expand their practice.
HealthTap in downtown Palo Alto.
Physicians in general have been historically slow to embrace social media, according to HealthTap CEO Ron Gutman, but are beginning to adopt this platform as a trusted medium for communication with patients.
"Everybody always said how hard it is to get physicians to participate online," said Gutman. "Not only is it possible, but they’re doing it en masse."
“The ability for a practicing physician to use something like HealthTap, which is a form of social media, to allow patients to ask questions, is invaluable,” said Dr. Laura Webb, a pediatrician at .
Webb frequently recommends HealthTap to her patients as a resource for basic health information, because, she says, it is often a more efficient way to answer questions than an office appointment.
What’s more, she says, HealthTap offers interactive guides to the most frequently asked medical questions, giving patients a deeper level of understanding than a brief question-and-answer session.
“A lot of time, you feel like you’re rushed as a physician, trying to get all the information out when you only have 10 or 15 minutes for an appointment,” said Webb. “But with a website that I trust, like HealthTap, I can give patients a URL and send them to my homepage on HealthTap, which has a variety of the most commonly asked questions, and then they can go back and look up those questions without needing to email.”
That trust, says CEO Gutman, is the cornerstone of HealthTap’s value proposition.
“Traditionally, doctors are not engaged online, because they don’t feel safe there,” said Gutman. “They don’t want to mix their real life with the lives of their patients.”
HealthTap allows physicians to get to know a patient—and their symptoms—before meeting them in person. This makes the 15-minute office visit more substantive and informative, because both parties are able to leap past the typical basic conversation. In some cases, HealthTap has even replaced doctor visits entirely.
“I did have a patient with a 3- or 4-year-old son,” said Webb, “and I had recommended HealthTap to them. They came back a couple weeks later, and said, hey, my kid had some coughing about a week ago and some nasal discharge, and we ended up not coming into the appointment, because I was satisfied with the answer I got on HealthTap.”