Medical apps let doctors diagnose by smartphone

Feeling sick? A diagnosis may be just a tap away.

Medical phone apps that allow patients to text or video-chat with doctors are quickly growing in popularity. One million people had virtual appointments in the past year.

One of the most downloaded apps, HealthTap, is best known for its question-and-answer website, where users can ask a pool of thousands of doctors medical questions. For $99 a month, users can also video chat with doctors.

Another app, Pager, allows patients to book house calls or physicals at $199 weekly and $299 during weekends.

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Doctorondemand.com

One service that CBS News medical contributor Holly Phillips says is "generating some controversy" is Doctor on Demand. The start-up app, founded by television's Dr. Phil and his son Jay McGraw, allows users to engage in video consultations with certified doctors in 47 states. And for $40 per 15-minute phone call, patients can be diagnosed or even prescribed medications.

The app has a 1-2 minute response time with 1,400 general practitioners signed up for consultations.

"Even though the doctor can see you, or you could upload photos, one thing we're missing is in medicine what we call the laying on of hands," Phillips said. "A physical exam, an authentic interaction between people; that has been shown to be the most effective diagnostic tool we have."

Phillips says that while these apps are useful for same-day consultation, patients with serious medical issues should seek doctors face-to-face.

"It's still better to see your doctor in their office," Phillips said. "But this is safe for people who are healthy and don't have multiple complications; people who have pinkeye or sore throat, never for diabetes or long term concerns."

Many of these apps are offset by insurance, but Phillips says nothing beats the real thing.

"Sometimes things that look very simple aren't," she said. "If you use one of these apps, make sure to get a record of your visit so you can go back and follow up with your real doctor to make sure nothing was missed."

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