The TalkToDocs app draws on the potential of voice recognition tools to make online health advice that little bit more personal.

TalkToDocs turns your phone into a physician


In late 2012 L’Atelier reported on the launch of HealthTap, a social network which enables people to put questions to a community of physicians. These doctors receive ratings, both from their peers and their online ‘patients’, based on the quality of the online responses they provide. This trust-based meritocratic forum is not only leading to the establishment of what are almost ‘virtual doctors’ practices’ but is also gaining a foothold in the ‘real’ world with a service for making appointments with a suitable doctor when specific problems are identified. Now this health Q&A startup, which raised $24 million worth of venture capital funding earlier this year to build on its strategy of personalizing e-healthcare, has just launched a new app which fosters even closer patient-doctor online relationships using voice recognition.

More personal engagement

This new paid-for app, appropriately named TalkToDocs, uses technology similar to the iPhone Siri functionality. Combining voice recognition, artificial intelligence and natural language processing, the app enables identification of the most appropriate answers to each person’s question. The HealthTap team argue that when patients are able to speak their questions this creates a more personal link and so optimizes the search for the right advice. While most US smartphone owners are already used to voice interaction on their mobile device for taking notes or looking for an itinerary, using voice marks a new level of personalization on e-health platforms. However, a recent study undertaken by smart data provider Intelligent Voice showed that only 15% of the iPhone users surveyed use Siri regularly. TalkToDocs will enable more people to take advantage of online medical advice as it can be used by for example the visually impaired and those with certain motor skill disabilities.

Doctors’ app recommendations should help sort out the sector

A recent study from Pew Internet and American Life revealed that eight out of ten US citizens who go on the Internet to seek answers to medical questions use Google as their primary source. With its new app, HealthTap is looking to take over the top spot as the Google of e-health by collaborating actively with a community of experts. Already several months ago the startup launched a new service  – AppRx– which encourages the 40,000 doctors who are currently members of the network to recommend useful mobile health apps to users. This sort of expertise would seem to be vital in an ecosystem which already encompasses close to 50,000 applications – with 600 apps dedicated solely to diabetes sufferers – and which is only just starting to be regulated.

By Thomas Meyer
Journalist, Business Analyst