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Doctoring in the Digital Age

Our roundup of medical apps to help you know when your child's illness warrants a medical visit.

By Christina Tynan-Wood

Medical Apps
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Andy Potts

Whenever I went away for any reason, it seemed one of the kids ended up at our doctor. At first I figured it was a universe-out-to-make-me-feel-guilty-for-leaving type of thing, but then I realized it was because my husband, Dan, is an easy mark for an "I'm sick!" performance from a teenager who doesn't want to go to school. Without me there to weigh in on what might (or might not) actually be wrong, he Googles potential ailments, semi-panics and heads straight to the M.D. for a verdict. Too much drama—not to mention wasted time and money—in my book.

With my son and daughter back in school and a work trip looming on my calendar, I set out to find some reliable resources for Dan to tap when he's trying to decide whether a kid's complaint warrants prompt medical attention, a mental health day or a firm pep talk.

My research soon turned up a wealth of expertise online. For instance, at HealthTap.com, users can pose questions to a national network of doctors and get answers for free. Intrigued, I fired off queries about potential side effects of a specific prescription medication, double-checked a self-diagnosis and inquired about supplements for a woman of a certain age (mine). The site routed my questions to appropriate specialists, meaning a pediatrician, an internist and a nutritionist. I received useful, well-thought-out replies within the day.

In fact, I could do more than get advice—there was also the opportunity to be proactive. Case in point: Some months back, my doctor told me my cholesterol was too high. I left her office vowing to cut out buttered popcorn and bacon, and did resist—until my motivation fizzled. Curious to know whether my cholesterol had improved, I arranged for a blood test through InsideTracker.com.

A few days after reporting to a local lab for a blood draw, I was able to access an online dashboard of my cholesterol, broken down with clear explanations of the numbers and even pictures of foods I should (and should not!) eat. Whenever I want, I can log back on, review my info and, if desired, arrange a retest. My internist is great, but she's looking for issues, not trying to fine-tune me to perfection. Here I get graphics, explanations and specific suggestions to address even relatively minor concerns, like a slight vitamin D deficiency and low magnesium.

But the best development is that when I'm elsewhere, Dan no longer leaps into freak-out mode at any little alleged malady. Panicked appointments are a thing of the past. In other words, the universe will have to find another way to make me feel guilty when I travel solo.

Online First Aid

HealthTap.com
Join for free to get your questions (Twitter-esque, limited to 150 characters) answered by a doctor, usually within a day. If you want to follow up, ask privately through the site ($10). Download the free mobile app to receive daily wellness tips.
Free and up

InsideTracker.com
Sign up for a fee-based plan to order blood work, then head to a nearby LabCorp clinic. Detailed results with explanations and visuals appear on your web-based health dashboard.
$49-$299

MyMedLab.com
Choose from a menu of tests, pay, then await your Digital Lab Order. (Typically this takes less than 15 minutes.) When results are ready to view on the secure site, you are notified by e-mail or text.
From $75

HealthVault.com
A paperless place to corral your family's medical records. You can also sync certain devices, such as scales, pedometers and glucose monitors, to collect and track wellness data over time.
Free and up

ZocDoc.com
Search for local specialists on your insurance plan, read patient reviews and book appointments with a few keystrokes or taps on the Android or iPhone app.
Free

Originally published in the October 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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