Real-time answers from doctors… for a price.

Q&A is, has been and will be, one of the main forms of communication on the Internet. I’ve been harping on this for a long time. Big surprise. I believe in what I do for a (meager) living. I was reading the New York Times this evening (Friday night) and there were two stories about novel approaches to Q&A: There was a story about Aardvark (yes, another one) and one that was new to new me.

It was a story about a new service in which “people” (I’ll come back to that) can text doctors questions and get back answers virtually immediately (for a doctor I “real-time” means within 24 hours). In fact they can text groups of doctors and get back a host of answers. Cool. Almost too good to be true. And yes, it is true, sort of. The company is, after all, called Truth On Call.

Think of the possibilities, people in under-developed countries with inadequate medical expertise can text the people at the center of the best health care system in the world (tongue in cheek) and get answers to problems that stump them. Doctors who have particularly perplexing cases can get consults. Patients can get help – right from their cell phone, while they are driving preferably. And (penny drops) pharma companies can do quick “surveys” to see the impact or potential for a drug, advertisement or adverse reaction.

So back to the “people” part. Who is this service designed for? Which people do they have in mind? Well, it costs $50 per question, not that bad really, but… well I’ll just take this paragraph right out of the NYT:

“The fees for asking questions can quickly add up. Texting 100 doctors with a 24-hour response time costs $5,000, covering the doctors’ $10 fees plus text-messaging fees and payment to Truth On Call.”

I think it’s safe to say that “people” still can’t just ask questions of doctors. Too bad. How much is Aardvark? Free. How much are the many Q&A sites catering to medical questions. It varies, but mostly, free. So when it comes to Truth On Call, I’m feeling a little sick.

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