Ask the Doctor now accepts bitcoin

People around the world with sensitive medical questions require discretion about their healthcare, and users who want to keep their healthcare private can now hide their medical payments from their bank or credit card company.

- Prakash Chand, Ask The Doctor CEO

Ask the Doctor launched in 2010, and has been answering questions from anyone with an internet connection ever since. They handily keep answers in a searchable format for browsing. The startup partnered with the US National Institute of Health (NIH), who runs the PubMed medical journal, in 2011. They integrate all of Ask the Doctor’s answered questions, minus identifying user information, into the nationalized biomedical collection.

In 2012, the National Medical Library announced that they were attempting to feed the answers from Ask the Doctor into an Artificial Intelligence program run on the supercomputer Watson. The project was designed to help determine the role computers can play in interpreting and dispensing medical advice using artificial intelligence.

In June of this year, the company celebrated their five millionth question milestone, and claims over a million registered users with 25,000 people using the website each day, all serviced by their network of over 10,000 doctors. Questions come from patients in nearly every country around the world, according to the company’s website.

Although limited to answering questions only, Ask the Doctor allows customers to seek out healthcare without many of the negatives associated with a doctor’s visit, such as waiting room delays, insurance worries, and scheduling doctor’s appointments.

Ask The Doctor's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Michael Warner MD, recently said, "The traditional doctor-patient visit is not designed to meet the needs of patients who require information or reassurance."

- Dr. Michael Warner MD, Ask The Doctor's CMO

The service allows customers to choose their own level of expertise in their healthcare provider. When they type in a question, they get to choose to send it to a General Physician or specialist in one of the many medical areas of practice.

The company offers four levels of service on their website, from speaking to a nurse for free, all the way up to speaking with a specialist for US$39. The company announced on Thursday that they are accepting Bitcoin for all levels of service as “a new way to further help protect their patients privacy.”

The payment option is currently available on desktop, with the help of Bitpay, while plans to a mobile solution is currently in the works. Unlike other payment options, like Paypal or credit cards, Bitpay does away with personal information that can link users to their transaction.

However, Bitcoin is not fully anonymous. Bitcoin’s blockchain records every transaction, making blockchain forensics that much easier. With the help of law enforcement or exchange operators, those transactions can be linked to users.

“In reality, Bitcoin is probably the most transparent payment network in the world. At the same time, Bitcoin can provide acceptable levels of privacy when used correctly.” - Bitcoin.org

Ask the Doctor isn’t the first online healthcare provider to accept Bitcoin. In the tumultuous autumn of 2013, just as MtGox was preparing to implode and the price of a bitcoin was closing in on its all-time high, a mostly-anonymous bitcoin startup called CoinMD launched a similar service in exchange for bitcoin payments.

However, CoinMD had one fatal flaw. Their doctors were anonymous too, just like the patients. The website’s founder was operating on the theory that keeping doctors anonymous removes the threat of medical malpractice lawsuits, and therefore doctors would be more inclined to offer inexpensive advice, leading to a crowdsourced medical community website.

Wired magazine wrote, “This Is the Absolute Worst Place on Earth to Spend Your Bitcoins.” No legitimate licensed physician would ever participate, the scathing review states, since they would risk losing their license. The DailyDot was even more pointed, noting that CoinMD beat the US government’s infamous HealthCare.gov website for being “the most poorly-executed online health venture of the year.”

Ask the Doctor’s medical professionals are all clearly identified and licensed, allowing customers to be sure they are getting real healthcare professionals to answer their questions, even if their own names are hidden.