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Internet

Expert medical advice online

A new Web site offers patients the ability to consult with medical experts for a $195 fee.

Finding a medical site on the Internet is easy. There are sites that offer specialized information, sites that specialize in alternative medicine, and sites sponsored by drug companies, to name a few.

And advice on the Net is also readily available--mostly for free.

So why would people pay $195--in a day and age when many Netizens still are reluctant to pony up any amount of money on the Web--to get advice from a doctor they've never met?

Because, says Deb Falk, vice president of marketing for the site offering just such a service, people clicking to Mediconsult.com aren't getting run-of-the-mill advice. For the hefty price tag, they are getting specialized advice from what Falk describes as world-renowned doctors in their fields.

Mediconsult, an 18-month-old publicly traded company, launched the MediXperts service earlier this month, and already a few dozen people have ordered reports.

People using the service are asked to fill out a detailed form--from a secured server--that is then shipped anonymously to the specified physician. The doctor then returns a three- to five-page report two to five days later.

The idea is then for the patient to take that form to his or her own doctor.

Falk said the report service is especially geared to people facing life-threatening illnesses who might not otherwise have access to top experts in a given field.

"If you're faced with a life-threatening medical condition, it is so serious you want every point of view you can possibly get to save your life," she said.

Right now there are consultants for 25 medical conditions and by the end of March there will be 100, Falk said.

The expert service is only one of six revenue streams upon which Mediconsult relies. The others are: advertising and sponsorship; content licensing and private labeling; Internet marketing consulting; an online store; and book sales through a relationship with Amazon.com.

Falk stressed that Mediconsult is completely independent.