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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.
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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.

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