Browsing the internet in 2016 means weathering a barrage of online ads that make some pretty dubious health claims. Among them:
“Cure your diabetes with this one weird trick!” and “Dermatologists hate her! Find out why.”
With so much misleading and potentially dangerous information floating through cyberspace, it can be a challenge for consumers to separate fact from fiction.
Now, two Billings physicians, Dr. Ben Sickler and Dr. Kris French, have launched an interactive website, www.mdexplain.com, in which they strive to answer their customers’ medical questions quickly and accurately, using their own extensive training.
“We don’t do diagnoses or provide treatment,” Sickler said. “We’re mostly trying to help people understand their health, their bodies, their medication and how it affects them. We try to explain it in a way that they can understand.”
The website was launched last spring and already receives hundreds of page views each day from all over the world.
“The question can be as simple as: ‘What do these lab tests mean?’ or it can be something more personal,” French said. “A lot of people ask basic medical questions and things that we have studied and experienced. We know where to look and it’s easy for us to find the right answers.”
Both doctors maintain busy practices. Sickler is an anesthesiologist and French is a neurologist. The partners set aside time during their breaks or in the evening to answer questions that customers have posted through the website. All correspondence is confidential.
Sickler and French first became friends while attending medical school at the University of North Dakota and their friendship continued during their residencies. They went their separate ways as they pursued their own specialties but renewed their friendship after their careers brought them to Billings.
As medical students and later in their careers, Sickler and French are frequently asked health-related questions by friends and acquaintances.
“People hear you’re a doctor and they say they’ve got this problem and they start to ask questions, which we like,” Sickler said. "We started this business because there are a lot of people who just want to talk to a doctor and ask a question.”
Not every website that deals in medical information is selling snake oil. Web MD and the Mayo Clinic are among a number of well regarded websites known for providing accurate medical information. But mdexplain seeks to provide more specific information.
“The trouble with using those kinds of sites is that people sometimes don’t know the right kinds of questions to ask, and as a result, they don’ get a right answer,” French said.
The fee for using www.meexplain.com is $25 per question. The site accepts credit cards and Paypal, and is cash only. Insurance isn’t accepted.
Sickler and French often follow up to make sure the customer completely understands the answer that was provided.