The App that Puts WebMD to Shame

We all know WebMD’s Symptom Checker sucks. A hypochondriac’s nightmare, Symptom Checker often leaves one with the impression that he or she either has the common cold or cancer. Its reliance on algorithms and generic answers makes it difficult for Symptom Checker to reliably narrow down the possibilities. A new program has greatly improved on the excellent idea, however, by adding a human touch.

Founded in February 2012, HealthTap is both an app and website that diagnoses health problems. First, you ask a question that can be as simple or as complicated as you’d like. Second, your question reroutes to one of the 50,000 physicians that freely contribute to the site. HealthTap chooses a physician for you based on both their expertise and their promptness in replying to you. The initial question is free, and it’s easy to get a second or third opinion. For follow-up questions or even personalized conversations with physicians, the website charges a small fee. Over the past eighteen months, the site has responded to almost a billion inquiries.

One may wonder why so many doctors do pro bono work for HealthTap. The website recognizes the importance doctors place on reputation. HealthTap rewards doctors for their success on the site with various badges and awards. These rewards have, however, evolve over the past year and a half: instead of the more facetious awards (“The Dougie Howser Award”) that it started with, HealthTap now have badges like “advocate” or “founding expert.” In addition, the site has reputation scores, user comments, and comments from other doctors about each physician.

The New York Times Bits Blog champions HealthTap as an app that has tapped into the uses of behavioral psychology. Now I don’t know very much about psychology, but I do know this: Doctors become doctors for a reason. No one commits that much time and money to that type of education unless they’re committed. Surely some become doctors for the money, but many do because of an innate want to help other people. HealthTap prompts every user to show some appreciation for their physician after their question has been answered. Many do, and doctors clearly find this refreshing. After a hectic day of appointment after appointment, it’s nice to do what you love and receive a simple “thank you” for your efforts. In addition, when asked through this prompting, 10,000 Healthtap users have indicted that the service saved their life. It’s tough to imagine a doctor who wouldn’t want to contribute to such a helpful site.

Check out the video below to see a great TED talk with HealthTap CEO Ron Gutman about smiling. And the next time you want to diagnose a potential problem, try out HealthTap.


An App That Saved 10,000 Lives,” Amy O’Leary,

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