Where to get free medical advice

By Staff Writer
Visiting the doctor for general flus and cold symptoms can set you back hundreds of Rands if you don't have a medical aid that covers consultations or if the medical savings component of your scheme has run out. 

But there are a few websites that offer some medical advice for free or, in other cases, for less than what it would cost you to consult a doctor. Here are just a few that you can turn to if you have little or no cash at your disposal.
 
Baby Club by Clicks' Facebook page
Join Clicks' Baby Club Facebook group and every Friday between 12-2pm you'll be able to talk to a paediatrician which they refer to as the 'Paed-IQ doctor'. 

What's the catch? I've used the service before to ask some basic baby related questions for my one year old son, which has been useful. However, Clicks warn that the information provided by the paediatrician is for educational purposes only. It adds that 'no medical diagnosis or prescription can be inferred or is implied'. It then encourages you to consult your doctor for medical advice.

Justmoney says: Use this feature to get some general advice about your baby. But don't rely solely on it. If your baby is very sick contact your doctor immediately.
 
Health24: 
You can pose a question to the panel of experts on Health24. Alternatively, you can peruse through previously answered questions. It's free to use and turnaround times for answers are a reasonable two days max. "We require that experts answer questions at least thrice a week, meaning that users may have to wait between one and two days for a response, though most experts respond the following day," explained Laura van Niekerk, editor of Health24. 

What's the catch? Obviously as there's a small delay in response times, so for anything urgent the service may not be useful. Also, you may still need to go to a doctor as Health24 states that the information it provides does not constitute a diagnosis. It encourages you to consult a medical practitioner for a physical examination.

Justmoney says: This website has lots of practical medical information and general tips. If you have a medical query and some time to await an answer then you could find the solution to your problem here. However, if there's an urgent medical emergency, rather seek the help of your doctor.
 
Not free, but may be cheaper than a consult
 
Pick n Pay clinics
Pick n Pay's clinics offer a wide range of services at what it claims are affordable prices. 

What's the catch? Some consults are free while other's you'd have to pay for. In a news bulletin last year, for example, Western Cape Pick n Pay clinics offered free HIV tests and free baby immunisation and family planning on Tuesday mornings.

Justmoney says: Phone ahead to your nearest Pick n Pay store to ask what a consultation fee costs and what free services, if any, the store offers.
 
Hello Doctor:
Download the free app, which works on any mobile phone, to get access to a 'doctor in your phone'. Once you've done so you must add some basic info about yourself. After inputting your info and subscribing to the service you are able to ask a fully qualified doctor about anything from a sore toe to how to deal with a fever. Once you've logged a query on the app a doctor will call you back and you will be able to chat to them on a one on one basis. You can also use the app to send the doctor a text message if you prefer to communicate this way. 

What's the catch? The video and explanatory notes say it's free to download the app and access the health tips and articles, but dig a little deeper and you realise that you have to subscribe to the service to access the 'Digital doctor' or 'House call' functions. 

Justmoney says: After giving Hello Doctor a call about its subscription services we were told that the cheapest house call package starts from R2 a day. Meanwhile a six month subscription can cost you R195. These options are still cheaper than a visit to the doctor but weigh up your needs carefully and decide whether you would fully commit to a subscription and use it often enough to make it worth your while. Hello Doctor warns that you have a cooling off period of seven days and that thereafter you won't be able to cancel the subscription until the subscription term is up. You also need to give 20 business days' notice in writing if you want to cancel. If you don't do so your subscription will automatically renew on a month-to-month basis.
 
In conclusion:
 
There are web services that offer free medical advice but there are lots of fraudsters and con artists on the web too. Make sure that any forums or services you subscribe to are legitimate and trustworthy. If in doubt, or if the service you come across sounds 'too good to be true' rather steer clear of it. Never give out your banking details to a company or person that you don't know much about. Do your research first and then decide if the service you are looking at will help you medically.

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