Family physician, author, blogger, speaker, physician leader.

Is HealthTap Good for Doctors?

Is HealthTap good for doctors? I had a chance to hear Ron Gutnam, CEO and founder of HealthTap, at the 2013 Stanford Innovation Health Summit. He describes it best (comments begin at Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 6.41.23 AM3:00).

“Patients or people can get health answers from physicians in minutes for free using their mobile devices, using their web browser from any time and any where. We started with pediatricians and obstetricians serving pregnant women and moms. Less than two years we have expanded our physician network to over 37,000 US licensed physicians in good standing, 128 specialties in all 50 states. We have physicians in over 3100 cities across the country.

You can go to HealthTap, ask any question you want and get an answer for free in minutes or a few hours.

There is a shift in how people want to get their health information today, from whom, and how fast they expect to get their information. How fast they expect to get access to physicians, right?

Imagine a world where you have a health question, a mom wakes up in the middle of the night, her baby is crying and has very high fever, and she is concerned and does not know what to do. Is she going to the emergency room right now or is there a better solution? She going to fire up HealthTap and push a button and be in front of a US licensed physician immediately, and understand really well who the physician is, what are their credentials, how good they are in solving the particular question she has. Have a quick interaction with them right from her mobile device in seconds.

HealthTap is building that today. Not for just one use case but HealthTap is serving millions of patients every month. We are serving many patients every second. We just celebrated more than one million registered active users on HealthTap. We have close to 8 million people coming to HealthTap every month right now and 37,000 physicians serving them.

New paradigm that is really transforming on how people get access to health information and to the best physicians in this country. The network of 37,000 US licensed physicians are by invitation or by application only. Must be US licensed physicians in good standing. We check their credentials, and make sure we provide the access to the best physicians in this country. We have served to date more than 700 million doctor answers to patients. This is a huge number and it is growing really fast. everyday….

… We only have 30 people working on [HealthTap]. Mostly engineers, product people, and designers, who are really passionate about making a huge difference and serving more people in a new paradigm which will be mobile centric and consumer centric in a new way of getting immediate access to care anytime, anywhere.”

In the HealthTap promotional videos, doctors who participate in HealthTap like feeling good when getting thanks from HealthTap participants, find it fun, and can do it when they want to.

I appreciated Gutman’s enthusiasm and his opening story of what HealthTap could be. He is right in the sense it is about connecting patients and the public with the right health information quickly and easily. Of course by blogging and writing, I’m all in favor of providing patients and the public high quality health information and medical content quickly and easily.

The fundamental question is simply this:

Is health content and quality best curated by a technology platform or brand like HealthTap or is it best curated by groups like the Mayo Clinic or the Cleveland Clinic, which are physician led organizations?

As Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich, who recently took some songs off the music streaming service Spotify noted:

“Make no mistake new artists you discover on #Spotify will [not] get paid,” Yorke said in one of the tweets. “Meanwhile, shareholders will shortly [be] rolling in it. Simples.”

It is a brand new world in health care with the intersection of technology, interest by venture capital, and other shifts in demographics and expectations.

Are the doctors participating in HealthTap the new artists? After all, doctors are providing this content, much the same way musicians create music. For free.

Digging deeper one has to wonder, what exactly is HealthTap’s business model? How does HealthTap do it for free? Is there some other purpose besides making health information available?

Could it be about building a technology platform that people rely on in building a medical practice or a database of information that other Silicon Valley technology developers could use? Certainly a technology platform that spreads data or information, say like Yelp for restaurants or Spotify for music, are only relevant if there is content worthy of using it.

In Yelp, the public writes reviews for restaurants and other things for free. Users, known as Yelpers, get recognized with “badges” and recognition from other Yelpers. They feel good doing it. Using it of course is free. The content of Yelp at its very core is user generated.

In HealthTap, however, though the public can ask questions, the content by definition must be generated by US licensed doctors in good standing. Doctors are generating this content for free. Yet, there is an opportunity cost not only for education, training, and maintenance of this medical license that doctors probably don’t account for. After all, the majority of us are altruistic. This is why we went into medicine. The demand on our time with a HealthTap question only takes a few minutes. Helping someone quickly makes us feel good.

Many doctors aren’t business people, so it might not dawn upon us immediately how HealthTap might use this free doctor generated database further. A few minutes from now 40,000 doctors on HealthTap adds up.

What is HealthTap’s Strategy?

Might this content be used to benefit HealthTap further as it extends its brand and reach, much like Yelp did starting in 2004? As Yelp had more user content generation, Yelp was able to sell businesses advertising, other content (have you see their stickers on the windows of your favorite restaurant?), and went public in March 2012.

Might HealthTap’s goal be to sell the platform for medical groups to generate their own content? Sell the free generated health content to developers for a fee for them to use in their development? Might they also go public? I’m not against any of this. I’m just wondering if doctors providing the content were aware of this or not.

One only can envision what HealthTap’s other goals might be in the future.

Is HealthTap good for doctors? Is HealthTap simply a sign of what is occurring in health care much the same way technology has impacted newspapers, movies, and music? Doctors are simply a commodity? Everything should be free? What impact might that have on professionalism as well as the type of content generated? What do you think?

Finally would note that in the Terms of Agreement, HealthTap notes the following:


We do allow you to connect privately with physicians for consultation – but consultations are not for diagnosis, prescription or treatment.

Do not use HealthTap or Content or Services to diagnose or treat a medical condition. Do not use HealthTap or Content or Services in a potential or actual medical emergency.

HealthTap does not guarantee the accuracy of Third Party Content.

Only informational questions submitted for educational purposes are allowed
No personal health questions are permitted – you are not allowed to provide facts that give questions the impression of being patient-specific
Questions can describe a general situation, illustration, illness, or symptoms, but the question should withhold enough facts so that it’s clear that it’s not describing an actual, specific patient

When accessing our Premium Content and Services, including private conversations with Medical Experts you should know the following:
•    No requests for prescription, diagnosis or treatment should be made

Medical Experts: Permission to Post and Use Expert Submissions. When a HealthTap Medical Expert submissions related to any HealthTap feature or function and made for publication on HealthTap (such as an answer to a question) (an “Expert Submission”), you grant HealthTap an unrestricted right without limitation to use, reproduce, extract data from or add data to, publish and post any such Expert Submissions, including in connection with or on HealthTap, including in connection with your name. This means that when you make such a submission to us, you are giving us rights to this content, including the right to post it on HealthTap and use it in connection with HealthTap. You also give us the right to give or transfer all rights granted herein to others. While Expert Submissions generally are posted to HealthTap, we do not have an obligation to post any particular Expert Submission on HealthTap and reserve the right, at our sole discretion and for any reason whatsoever (including but not limited to an Expert Submission being reported to us), to not post and/or to remove any Expert Submissions at any time.


Here’s a screenshot of HealthTap’s landing page. Note some of the questions generated.

Do patients understand HealthTap is merely a way of disseminating information?

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 6.33.56 AM


9 thoughts on “Is HealthTap Good for Doctors?”

  1. I fully agree with your comments. More and more online “medical advice” sites are popping up with those same Terms of Service. I think it is tremendously deceptive to patients (and physicians), who are clearly looking to receive (and give) personalized advice. I came across an online “2nd opinion” site the other day with the same Terms. How do you give a second opinion without establishing a physician-patient relationship or offering personal diagnostic or treatment advice? I am all for better sharing and dissemination of health information, but how and by who is equally important.

  2. Totally agree. HealthTap’s business model is disingenuous in that it tells doctors to only provide “information” to the patient that is not personalized, but then vigorously encourages patients to ask personalized health questions. Doctors answering personalized health questions (which I have seen many, many times on the site) are risking their careers in that they are “practicing medicine” with patients in states/locations that they almost certainly not licensed in (doctors must be licensed in the same state that the patient lives when offering personalized medical info). HealthTap does not care what happens to the doctors – they simply care about the content that the doctors are generating for free that can be mined and resold.

  3. I recently answered a question which was in my mailbox and tagged as a PAID response. I was intrigued. Was I being paid for the service I was to this point offering simply for fun and the enjoyment of being able to provide short snipets of education to people asking general sorts of medical questions (I avoid patients asking specifics about themselves…even though I know that’s still likely happening…whatever)? I think I was awarded a whole 600 POINTS for my rapid and heads up efforts. I provided not only what I thought was a thoughtful and pertinent answer but even 2 more “clarifications” which resulted in more POINTS for my efforts. The next morning I find that this patient had left a RECOMMENDATION for me which was scathing and in no way recognized or commended my efforts (at midnight no less) as she complained that it had taken 19 hours to answer a question for which she paid $10.00 and was promised an expeditious answer and that my answer was no better nor specific than she could could look up on Wikipedia. She also thought I had made a condescending remark because she asked about “what to look for before having to go to see someone” and I responded by saying, I am not sure what you would be interested in wanting to wait to “look for anything in this case” and recommended she seek out medical attention right away. She was referring to an insect bite which for the past week had been growing in size, had opened up, and now was increasing in its depth and that she frequently was using peroxide to dissolve away crusty material building up around its ever widening edges.

    Bottom line is this is NOT the type of person who should be allowed to interface in this type of venue (but then, again how can you prevent this when questions are not screened before they are placed on the boards to answer) and secondly, I had NO IDEA that SHE was paying for a service for which I was receiving GOODIE POINTS and a stout pat on the back with little virtual trophies, ribbons, and being elevated to one of the most TRUSTWORTHY and DILIGENT sources of information in my field….not just my geographical location mind you…..BUT MY FIELD….not to mention the ever increasing numbers of people I am helping with my answers (I think I’m up into 6 figures in the short time I’ve been doing this….should be up to 1 million within a few months as the numbers seem to go up logarithmically). This network’s business model of how it compensates its authors and core professionals without which the company doesn’t exist, is entirely fraudulent in my opinion as they intentionally mislead each party to believe things about what is going on and the dynamic that don’t exist. I’m amazed that so many doctors can have been duped for so long with this system. Almost could be a reincarnation of MEDICARE in a parallel universe!

  4. Anytime one creates a watering hole, an electronic pub, there is the opportunity to sell access to the pub. Think of the neon Coors signs we see in bars. That doesn’t mean it is bad or wrong. It is simply business. But, there are many things wrong with healthcare today, all caused by the ability of outside interests and enterprises to divert revenues away from care. This is not one of them, but it will generate revenues at some point, and the participants will support that.

  5. I believe they are selling the answers we give for free. There are multiple reports of paid answers for consumers in the media, yet, there is no feature for us to share in that revenue. I was early advisory board for them. Having asked the question to their executive team on multiple occasions, it has not been answered. There is your answer.

    The health consumer internet moves at breakneck speed. We are not part of that business model. It is a fact. Each physician must choose if there is value in that system for them. Does it gain your new patients?

    My personal use of health tap has moved into a SEO for a mobile health product that we created. It has value for me for that reason. I answer questions regarding smoking cessation and weight loss, then provide a screen shot and link to our site for patients to download the app and try it. Great for our bootstrapping startup.

    Just because you as a physician THINK your content SHOULD have value, doesn’t mean that it DOES. Healthtap is finding market fit right now. They have convinced us to provide free answers and they have convinced patients to buy them. Simple as that. If healthtap team is reading, I welcome a response, feedback or thoughts!

    Natalie Hodge MD FAAP

  6. HealthTap advertises heavily on several podcasts. The ad copy clearly says that for a set fee the client/patient/patsy will receive a diagnostic evaluation and prescription if needed. I agree that doing so would be career suicide for any provider if the “prescription” goes beyond “eat healthy and reduce stress”.

    I have been called by several sales people that I (an internist) was recommended by a colleague. When I ask the name it is someone I have never heard of.

    A former boss of mine tried doing something similar several years ago, in the pre-smart phone era. Spent a bunch of other people’s money then it folded. The domain name is available if anyone is interested…

  7. It is unfortunate that a doctor from our children’s pediatric office has gotten mixed up with this program. I went to their site to grab the number really quick so I could contact the on-call doc and saw one of the docs from the office was available to speak with through messaging. I submitted the message only to be asked to pay $49 to send. Well, if their on-call doc is now charging $49 to speak to on behalf of my son of course it is worth paying as they are our pediatric office for a reason. After submitting the payment is when it says that the doc may or may not respond in 24 hours. What the WHAT? That wasn’t what I needed. My kid is sick, it was a Saturday and I needed a script called in for him so he could start feeling better. So then I called the office to reach the on-call and the nurse says that the doc will get back with me in 15 minutes. She did, and it wasn’t the same doc who’s face shows on the form. She called in a script and now monday morning while my kid feels better I am stuck with this charge for $49 for absolutely nothing. Had I needed a response from the doctor anyway it would have been trash. The answer was the same diagnoses I already knew my son had, which again required a script which the doc through this HealthTap site could not give. Faulty product, False marketing, Faulty company. Now as I wait for my refund that I am sure I will not get because it isn’t their policy to give people their money back even though they were duped, at least I paid through paypal and can attempt to fight it through them as well. I will make sure our pediatricians office is aware how horrible this reflects on them as well. Clearly a doc in the office is in need of some sort of financial assistance and has partnered with a fraudulent company to try and scheme his patients. Good thing that one isn’t our doc.

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