Ask the Doctor Online – A Win-Win For Everyone

Traditionally there are a few established ways of approaching the doctor for a person who feels ill. Communities set up different solutions where normally the public sector is a supporting part to a certain level of commitment. The most common way is that the person contacts a clinic to book a visit with the doctor, either they go directly to visit in person or they book it in advance from home. In recent years we have seen a few other ways that, if you look at them from a social society efficiency perspective, should be developed to become more sophisticated at higher speed than as of today.

Nurse call centres

One of these services is the phone call centre with nurses who receive incoming calls and answer questions about symptoms and give recommendation directly over the phone. They guide well in case the illness or injury is light, like for instance a cold or an accident with the knife in the kitchen. Another example is that of niche call centres that have shown great results in making smokers quit smoking.

Ask a doctor online

In line with the start of the Internet era came “Ask the doctor online.” There is no chance for an online doctor to give expert opinions about the person’s health since this requires a personal medical examination. The typical answer by an online doctor is giving references to knowledge bases or advices of what actions to take next. This is many times just what an anxious person needs. The persons who have health problems that require medical care will continue further onto the health service apparatus and the ones who are worried without any medical reason will not go that way but rather follow the doctor’s advice and possibly study the area of interest more in depth.

Online advantage – to be anonymous

There is an implicit strength in the distance services like nurse phone call centres or ask the doctor online since you are allowed to be anonymous. Persons who are in doubt whether to visit the doctor may not be prepared to disclose parts of their personal integrity. On distance they can reveal the thoughts bit by bit and have always the possibility to hang up at any moment.

Bristol-Myers Squibb & specialized university doctors – Case study

The biopharmaceutical company BMS – Bristol-Myers Squibb [] has provided ask the doctor online in the Scandinavian countries since the beginning of this millennium and hence has a lot of experience in the area. Independent doctors with expertise in one therapy area working at some of the biggest University hospitals in Sweden are hired to read and answer questions from people worried about diseases or symptoms.

One of the conclusions that can be drawn from these years of service is that the far most active therapy area is HIV/AIDS. Less incoming inquiries regard cancer, heart and vessel or rheumatism. One differentiator between the online questions about HIV and AIDS versus the other areas is that the level of knowledge of the persons who ask about HIV/AIDS is lower and filled with anguish and regrets of not being careful in sexual relations as well as a level of ignorance. The persons who ask about the other areas seem to be more into the therapeutic topic and can comfortably use advanced therapy terms in their right context.

What can be said about the Scandinavian countries is that they are among the countries with highest Internet use and penetration throughout all demographic segments as well as having very long online experience. Other things related to this demographic group is that they are homogeneous and considered as early adopters of new technology and services. However, in terms of the use of distance health services the Scandinavian countries mentioned in this article are not unique, but brought up as an example of what we today see as mainstream all over the developed world.

Health service development

Medical advice online or over the phone is part of a successful health organization when it comes to matching the clients in an early stage of a disease with a professional who can forward the concerned patient to the right clinic or to taking the right medicine. The clinics receive only the persons who are in need of meeting the doctor and the doctor will make better use of his professional skills. The organizational cost efficiency is obvious.

There is an interesting movement within the European Union where the member countries are developing studies and EU performance indicators to benchmark one country’s system to the one in another country. This is really how political power and science should be used at its best. Since the health services normally are related to impose of tax there is a natural drive to constantly optimizing the efficiency in the health services. The nurse call centres and ask the doctor online set up look like win-win for both the public sector that will deliver more health services to more people with higher quality when there is a more “targeted” audience in the clinic’s waiting rooms. And, at home of course we find satisfied patients who saved their trip to the doctor at the same as they hopefully had an excellent experience of the contact with their doctor online.