Sometimes—lots of times—you’d like a few more minutes with your doctor to get details straight, but not enough to make another haul to the office—and to pay another fee.
These days, though, there are lots of ways to get a bit of doc advice free—in-person, online, via a phone, or through mobile phone applications, if you know where to look and what cautions to take.
“Free doctor advice could be useful if you already have a diagnosis and want to know more about what to expect or how to treat [an illness],” says Dr. Leana Wen, co-author of When Doctors Don’t Listen. “But don’t go online or elsewhere to get a diagnosis. You’ll be getting generic advice that is not personalized to you.”
You may not know the reputation of the resource you’re using, either, or of the doctor who’s advising you, says Wen: “These are not places to get a second opinion. But you can ask, ‘Can you tell me more about this disease?’”
Below are a few resources to get you started.
GeneSights.com. Although the site is designed primarily for the Jewish community, most of its content applies generally, says Bruce Lander, director of institutional advancement, Program for Jewish Genetic Health at Yeshiva University in New York City. GeneSights offers individual “lessons” on various diseases, featuring a physician expert in that area. The site launched last May, so only two lessons currently exist: Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer, and a Genetics 101 primer.
Health Tap. This online health information network allows you to ask physicians medical questions for free. Each question goes to multiple doctors in the relevant specialty so you get more than one answer. The site does not offer medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and the doctor’s responses are brief. Sign up as a member on the site, and type in your question.
Choosing Wisely. An initiative of the ABIM Foundation in Philadelphia, this site helps patients (and doctors) sort through necessary versus unnecessary health care steps. Go to the site and click on “Lists.” The page lists by organization and by procedure what tests and procedures patients (and physicians) should question.
Hospitals. Many hospitals offer free classes about specific conditions such as diabetes, dementia or cancer. For instance, Morton General Hospital in Morton, Washington, has bi-monthly diabetes classes taught by a certified diabetes educator. Some offer online classes: The Woman’s Hospital of Texas in Houston offers free online breast-feeding training. Contact your local hospital or search its website for such services.
Medical Schools. Some offer free services to patients. For example, Tufts Dental School in Boston periodically offers free orthodontic consultations. Check local medical school websites.
State Programs. It’s worth investigating free programs your state offers. Florida, for instance, offers slews of programs such the Florida Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Check your state government’s Department of Health website.
Health Association Programs. Many condition-specific associations offer free services where you can consult with experts and educators. The American Lung Association, for example, has as Lung Health Hotline (1 800 Lungs USA) staffed by experts who can answer lung health questions. It also offers a free smartphone application enabling people to monitor whether their air is safe to breathe.