More patients getting second medical opinion online

January 20, 2012 3:52:18 AM PST
Many people have no health insurance, others are looking for a specialist that they won't have to wait weeks to see. Now, there's a new option that connects patients to physicians online.

When Rodger Hoffman was told he needed surgery, he wanted a second opinion and went to the web.

"The doctor was able to ask me specific questions about my history of the injury and look at my hand and the condition that it was in," Hoffman said.

Hoffman was 5,000 miles away from the doctor. They could have emailed, but the specialist felt this was better.

"There are some things that just don't translate well through email," hand surgeon Dr. Charles Eaton said.

They connected through a service called, one of a growing number of online services, such as American Well, TelaDoc and Consult A Doctor, which match patients and doctors.

"Most of the people who come to our site have a diagnosis so they are trying to find out what are the next steps. Where should I go for surgery? Do I need the surgery? Do I go to a different type of doctor?" founder Clint Phillips said.

Phillips founded the site after his daughter had a stroke during birth.

"We were told to fly across the country to be able to have simple questions answered that we didn't even know the doctors had the answers to," he said.

American Academy of Family Physicians President Glen Stream says there are limits to the care you get online.

"It's not the delivery of medical care and they describe that specifically that it's not diagnosing and not prescribing treatment," Stream said.

You're not getting treatment, yet the average cost is around $170, which insurance often doesn't cover. But Hoffman says it was worth it.

"I spent more time with Dr. Eaton over the Internet than I do in a standard office and face-to-face with my physicians," Hoffman said.

Hoffman ended up flying across the country to have the online surgeon perform his operation.

The American Academy of Family Physicians says another reason patients look for second opinions online is that their own doctor isn't spending enough time with them, and they say that's a weakness in the current health care system.