How do I know if i have swine flu? What are symptoms of stomach cancer? What’s this weird rash spreading across my private parts?

These are critical and sensitive heath questions that HealthTap wants to answer. The health Q&A startup unveiled its new TalkToDocs App today, a voice-activated health companion that lets people speak their questions to their phone and receive quick, responses from real doctors.

TalktoDocs_5“The healthcare system today is not customer-centric,” founder and CEO Ron Gutman told VentureBeat. “Instead of the patient coming first, the healthcare system itself comes first. We take very seriously the idea that people in the healthcare system are not ‘patients,’ they are ‘customers,’ and those customers need excellent service and immediate gratification. With TalkToDocs, we’re offering a quality of service that is not found elsewhere in the traditional assembly line of the healthcare system.”

HealthTap offers a popular service for doctors to answer questions from everyday people online. Gutman said that 25 percent of doctor visits are just exchanges of information, and HealthTap wants to take over those appointments, at a lower cost than a traditional visit.

It has more than 50,000 doctors in the database and claims to have answered 1,049,471,308 questions and saved 10,571 lives.

The inspiration for TalkToDocs came from user feedback and in response to the Affordable Care Act, which will send millions of previously uninsured Americans into the health system.

“The intended impact of launching TalkToDocs is twofold — to continue to demonstrate our mission and show consumers how achieving relief around getting health answers can be accomplished in many ways, including just vocalizing it. Voicing one’s concerns create deeper engagement and commitment to the answers provided.”

People speak their questions to the screen. The technology combines voice recognition, artificial intelligence, and natural language processing to understand the question and yield answers already provided by doctors on the network. People can scroll through a variety of answers or the app will read them aloud.

It is really not that different from HealthTap’s original product, except now you can speak instead of typing your questions. Whether patients will pay the 99 cents to download the app for this feature remains unclear.

Gutman said the particular use cases are for hands-free scenarios — when people are multi-tasking or driving a car — as well as for people with visual or motor skill disabilities that make typing questions difficult.

TalktoDocs_4TalkToDocs also arose out of a desire to stay ahead of the curve. There are plenty of competitors out there, including WebMD, MedWhat, Everyday Health, and HealthTap created HealthTap Labs to fuel innovation. TalkToDocs emerged from that initiative.

Earlier this year HealthTap released a new feature to its AppRx product which lets doctors recommend high-quality medial mobile apps to everyday users.

HealthTap raised $24 million in funding in May 2013 from Khosla Ventures. It was founded in 2010 by serving moms and pregnant women in the Palo Alto areas. It has grown significantly since then, helped along by the tremendous momentum of digital health products and national policy changes.

It may seem crazy that we can send text messages and get driving directions from the same little device that we ask our most intimate health questions, but mobile has had a significant impact on how people seek healthcare.

TalkToDocs may seem cool, just like Siri is cool, but the really exciting thing here is not that your phone can understand medical questions. It’s that thousands of doctors, millions of people, and billions of medical questions are getting asked online, saving people time and money, and giving them greater control over their health.

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