A strange rash on the side of your face. A scary lump on your chest. These are the kinds of everyday health concerns that people deal with, but thankfully there are places online where you can get help.
Here at MakeUseOf, we’ve offered resources for animal healthcare, websites where you can check medical symptoms, and even mobile apps that let you look up medical advice. But, what if you want to ask a medical professional about your specific health concern?
Usually, when medical concerns first crop up, they are minor. Whether it’s a skin issue, a small pain in your stomach, or a chronic cough, it isn’t always the physical ailment that is hard to tolerate — it’s the idea that it could be an early symptom of something serious. How do you know?
The answer might be as simple as visiting one of the following forums and asking a certified medical professional for their medical opinion.
Getting Medical Advice On The Internet?
The first question any logical person should ask before getting started here is just how safe is it to start getting random medical advice from a complete stranger — a Doctor that you don’t know, who could be from some country with completely different medical qualifications and regulations.
According to Pew Research, one in three American adults use the Internet to research their possible medical conditions. Before you assume that this is a bad thing, consider that 46% of them admitted that the information they found led them to seek out the attention of their own personal doctor.
And get this: 41% of those people said that their doctor confirmed their own diagnosis from online research.
That means while online medical advice can help you decide whether your condition is bad enough to seek medical advice — it should never be used as a substitute for the examination and diagnosis of your own medical doctor.
Doctor’s Lounge is a website focused on providing articles, academic journal papers and medical news for health professionals. Its focus on the research and academic side of medicine makes it a great place for patients to find information on their own.
Additionally, there’s an “Ask a Doctor” link in the left sidebar that takes you to a gateway page where you can enter the medical forums.
If you are registered with the forum, you can click on the “NEWTOPIC” button at the top of the forum to post your own questions for the medical volunteers who are supporting the forums.
These forums are popular, so someone else could have along before you and asked about the exact same symptom or medical condition. It’s best if you search the forum before posting your question.
NetDoctor [No Longer Available]
Full disclosure: NetDoctor is not a free service. Since it is UK based and somewhat affordable, it makes the list of valuable resources for online medical advice.
This is a true medical resource by any stretch of the imagination. Not only can you click on “Ask a doctor a question online” to send your concerns to a medical professional, but you can also — for a small fee of twenty pounds — book a telephone conversation or Skype conversation with one of the private doctors on staff.
Or if you’re not so sure about talking to a doctor in person, for fifteen pounds you can email your question direction to the doctor instead.
Unlike most other services where the question you ask is published and answered publicly, on this site your answer is provided to you privately in an “online patient record” that only you can access. You paid for it, so it’s your medical advice, and yours alone.
Health Physics Society [No Longer Available]
What better place to find medical advice about the use of radiation in your treatment plan than a society established in 1956 to promote radiation safety?
As part of its mission to promote accurate public information about radiation, the society offers an “Ask the Experts” area, where any health question related to radiation can be asked.
Topics range from industrial and cellphone radiation to lasers and dental instruments. If you’re facing any kind of procedure that involves some form of radiation — such as Cancer treatment — you know that you’ll get insightful and accurate information from the experts at the Health Physics Society.
It’s a common theme throughout these websites that they are focused on specific medical treatments (like radiation) or specific illnesses. In the case of The Body, medical experts are available to discuss anything to do with HIV.
HIV/AIDS is a tragic illness, and The Body is a website set up with the mission to “lower barriers between patients and clinicians” and to “improve the quality of life for all people living with HIV/AIDS”.
The website has a Board of Advisers boasting twenty-seven medical doctors. It’s a great place for information about your medical issues while dealing with HIV/AIDS, and also offers a support community with blogs, personal stories from other patients, and a forum where you can connect to others who are going through the same things you are.
At first glance, Health24 has the look of other medical websites across the net that promise the ability to ask an expert any question, but then charge you a fee at the last step in the process.
Here, that’s not the case. The site was originally established by Dr. Danie Pauw, and then in November of 2000 was sold to African media & publishing company Media24. According to the editorial page, all content on the site is medically reviewed.
The layout of the site encourages you to first search through the 350,000 questions that are already answered on the site.
If you can’t find an answer to your particular health question, there’s a form at the bottom of the main page where you can submit your own.
Before long, you should find your question answered on the site, under the relevant section for it.
There are also dedicated areas for issues like Psychology, ADHD or Diet.
In those areas, you’ll find answers provided by specific experts who are dedicated to questions submitted there — their background and expertise clearly displayed at the top of the page.
There are few better places to get expert medical advice than from an actual hospital, especially one with a name as well-known in the medical research community as Johns Hopkins.
Johns Hopkins Breast Center is dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, and to that end, the hospital provides a free Ask an Expert service for current or potential breast cancer patients.
Once you choose one of the topic areas in the list that match the category for your question, you can then click the “Ask A Question” button in the upper right corner and fire away.
You can trust that all answers are medically supported, because the free service is run by the health care professionals at the Johns Hopkins Breast Center.
One of the easiest sites to post a medical question is definitely eHealth. Have an issue that you just want to throw out there and quickly get an answer for? Just go to the main page of eHealth and type your question into the “Post New Topic” field.
Just keep in mind that your question will be posted publicly, so be careful how much personal information and medical details you provide. With that said, reviewing other questions similar to yours is worth your while — you may learn a lot from the expert answers!
Curious whether there are “real” experts at eHealth? They’re all featured on the right side of the “Ask a Doctor” section.
They are all doctor’s, with their medical specialties displayed under their names.
You will find that for many of these sites, the experts are not American. There’s nothing wrong with that, considering that these days you’ll find the medical training in most countries is equivalent to (or even exceeds) that of U.S. medical schooling.
With that said, may readers may still want to be sure the medical experts answering their questions are from the U.S. In that case, you may want to stick with a site like MD Talks.
A surprisingly simple site, given the volume of information found there. Clicking on “Ask a Doctor for Free” in the left navigation bar gets you to the form where you can pose your question.
MD Talks guarantees on its “About Us” page that all doctors and experts that answer questions are trained at “American Universities, Medical Schools, or Accredited Medical Institutions”.
The forum started back in 2008 as a smaller private forum for family and friends, and expanded into the free, public site that you see today.
This is another service that isn’t entirely free, but it also isn’t expensive considering the fact that you’re getting expert advice from medical experts like registered and trained cardiologists, orthopedic specialists and even OB-GYN.
This site is U.S. based, so prices are dollar based – roughly $21 for one question and 2 follow-up questions, or a monthly $29 per month to ask questions whenever you like. If you want to ask a specialist MD a question (not just a general practitioner), it’ll cost you $35, which includes 3 free follow-ups, or an unlimited number for $59 a month.
Once you’re signed up, asking a question is as simple as visiting the “Ask a Doctor” page and typing your question.
The staffing of the site is pretty impressive. Each time I visited, an indicator showed that between 15 to 25 specialists were online — meaning that the odds are pretty good once you submit a question, you’ll see an answer in short order.
If you’re concerned about the quality of the answers, you can visit the main page of the site and review some of the past answers provided by experts.
You won’t see the questions people have asked — for obvious privacy reasons — but these answers give you an idea of the level of expertise you can find at this site.
Realself [No Longer Available]
If you are facing or considering cosmetic surgery, there’s a free site called Realself where you can get those nagging one-off questions or concerns about the procedure answered by a medical expert.
This site boasts “thousands of board-certified doctors and specialists from around the world”, all available to answer your questions — including plastic surgeons from Toronto, San Diego, Manhattan and elsewhere. Just remember that if you’re going to submit images of yourself as part of your question — keep in mind that those images could be published for the whole world to see…
Keep in mind that the area of the site for treatment research is a community where other patients or non-certified experts hang out to discuss cosmetic treatments, so don’t expect that you’ll get an expert medical opinion in those forums. It is a great place to learn more about the experience from other patients who have already been through it.
How Do You Research Online?
As you can see, the Internet gets a bad rap when it comes to getting medical advice. It isn’t all filled with amateurs sharing bad medical opinion. If you know where to look, and you focus on the sites with certified medical professionals running the show, you can get some excellent health advice from people who know what they’re talking about. Try using sites like HealthTap, in addition to the resources offered above, to get the best medical opinion possible.
Remember – this should never replace diagnosis and treatment by your own doctor, but it’s a great way to keep yourself fully informed about what’s going on with your health. Don’t forget to use the best medicine reminder apps, like these ones to track your blood sugar levels, to stay on top of your medications, too.
Image Credit: Image Credit: Ollyy via Shutterstock
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