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Lame Response of the AMA to HealthTap

Posted Feb 24 2012 12:00am

Many years ago, when I was a professor at Berkeley, I sought out David Freedman, a professor of statistics, for comment on an idea of mine. I knew he would dislike it he was negative about everything and I wondered how strong his reasons for disliking it would be. It turned out, as I expected, that he disliked it but I was glad to see had no convincing reasons. That was helpful, I thought.

Likewise, it is obvious that the AMA would dislike HealthTap , a website that solicits doctors’ answers to medical questions (along the lines of “I have X symptoms. What should I do?”). Here’s the AMA response:

Dr. Peter W. Carmel, president of the American Medical Association, says he is concerned about the use of online medical information, which should “complement, not replace, the communication between a patient and their physician,” he wrote in an e-mail. With online health information sites, “a medical history is not taken, a physical exam does not occur and any suggested treatment is not monitored or assessed,” he said. “Using this information in isolation could pose a threat to patients.”

These comments could have been made by someone with no medical training. Practically everything has a hypothetical downside (“could pose a threat”). Since he fails to call into question the obvious upside (patients will get questions answered much faster and cheaper), he is practically endorsing it.

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