Idea File: "Doctor, it says on the internet…"

Forget wasting hours in a doctor’s waiting room, surrounded by sneezes and bad music. Managing your health might now be a simple click away.

I’m six months pregnant. Throughout the whole pregnancy, I’ve raced to my computer at the slightest inclination of anything amiss: a stomach cramp here, back pain there, suspicion that my liver is about to shift up under my chest. Lately I find I preface every sentence to my doctor with, “It says on the internet…”

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According to economics professor Alan B. Krueger, Americans age 15 and up spent a collective 847 million hours waiting for medical services in 2007. Photo via clevercupcakes (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Health and technology are increasingly intersecting, sometimes with mixed results. But there’s a reason why WebMD is popular: it’s easy to find information, costs nothing, and you don’t have to wait for it to call you back.

Here are some sites that are taking cues from what’s already out there to make sure your dose of information is relevant, timely, and won’t make you sick with worry:

1. PatientsLikeMe

People with every condition you can think of—from phobias to disorders to cancers—share their experiences here. Their stories are translated into real-time charts and graphs, and an easy search lets you browse by symptoms, treatments, and profiles that match yours. The idea is that laying your health issues out there for everyone to see can be therapeutic for you and useful for others.

Ultimately, the folks behind PatientsLikeMe hope this open source way of sharing knowledge can change the way medicine is done and delivered. And the best part? You don’t need insurance to take advantage of the knowledge shared here.

Considerations and caveats: If you’re not comfortable with broadcasting your health issues to the world, then this might not be for you. Also, there’s not much gender balance yet: 73.2% of the PatientsLikeMe community are female.

2. Hello Health

Say goodbye to unreturned calls from your doctor and hello to 24 hour access. Hello Health seeks to make communicating with your physician easy, efficient, and fast: you can use it to schedule appointments, check lab results, renew prescriptions, and get this, video chat with your provider.

It costs $120 per year to join, but think about how low your blood pressure will be when you don’t have to wait on hold or sit around reading gossip magazines anymore.

Considerations and caveats: For doctors, increased access has the potential to be overwhelming; managing expectations is a must. Patients who aren’t internet savvy or have limited to no access are also at a disadvantage.

3. Sickweather

Just as your local weatherman tells you when the next storm is coming through, this site alerts you when the next sickness is advancing in your area – minus the corny jokes. Scanning social networks and public sources, Sickweather lets you know which neighborhoods, restaurants, and more to avoid when the forecast calls for germs. It’s an interesting way to keep up with health trends all in one place.

Currently in beta, Sickweather is now accepting testers. But keep an eye on this site; in the space where health and technology meet, it just may be prove to be a barometer of success.

Considerations and caveats: Hypochondriacs should probably forget what they just read.

I’m curious what you think. Would you use these sites to manage your health? Why or why not?

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