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I'm writing a story that has a medical condition as a central plot point, and now I have questions to ask a doctor. The problem is, I don't know one. I could make up the details, but I feel like the narrative will suffer for it.

It occurs to me that this is not a unique situation. I vaguely remember hearing about a site that connected writers with subject matter experts, but now I can't find it. Perhaps I was only inventing it.

Where do I find experts to consult? Is there such a site, or can I expect to call my local hospital and be able to talk to someone? What about experts in other fields?

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    Awhile back I found this link to asking little details research type questions on one of the older writers.se questions. I bookmarked it at the time, but haven't had a chance to use it myself. It looks like a helpful site to ask random little questions for story-research purposes. – EveryBitHelps Jul 24 '18 at 9:58
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    Thanks for that site! That may have been the one I was thinking of. Either way, I'm bookmarking it. – IchabodE Jul 24 '18 at 15:49
  • If you don't find an answer on any of the more....grounded... stack exchange sites you could try Worldbuilding stack exchange. I can't guarantee a doctor will answer but there are a lot of very informed people on a lot of different subjects there and they're comfortable with hypotheticals. – Tim B Jul 25 '18 at 9:42
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I had to do the same thing for my novel only instead of a doctor, I needed a vet. It was only one scene but it was very detailed so I needed to get the information bang on.

I think the key to consulting experts is to respect their time.

To that end, I started with Google and did as much research myself as I could so that when I approached professionals I wasn’t asking clueless questions that wasted their time.

Next, I went into veterinary chat rooms (and there are Health and Biology Stack Exchanges you can post to) and formulated educated questions based on my own research. This raised information I hadn’t thought of during my research, and also, inevitably, highlighted problems with my scene which raised further questions.

Next, I signed up for a paid online consultancy with a qualified vet and posed my (now well-informed) questions to her. She was incredibly helpful because she was being paid to do that.

However, none of these routes really gave me a ‘feel’ for the scene I was writing. That took meeting professionals in person at their place of business. I called around three local vets and asked if I could come when it wasn’t busy. One vet was amazingly helpful and booked out a consultancy period free of charge at the practice.

Before meeting her, I put together my list of well-informed questions, took notes during the meeting and kept it as brief as I could.

With respect to health, I would try a private consultant in the field. If you’re UK-based you’ll find that NHS doctors are pushed to their limits and less likely to give you their time. You can use a Bupa search to find a specialist in your area and then contact them via email to see if they’d be happy to do an interview (UK based, but there must be a similar US site):

https://finder.bupa.co.uk/Consultant/search/?first=1&qk=spine&ql=SO22+5BJ&qn=&giottoFormFlag_consultant=1#start

As I say, the key is to respect their time. Do as much of your own research as you can so that if you can organise a face to face interview, your questions are well-informed and to the point.

Good luck!

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    For a veterinarian, there's also Pets where one might get reasonable answers. – a CVn Jul 24 '18 at 7:58
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    Thanks @MichaelKjörling. I wasn't aware of Stack Exchange back then. The chat rooms I found were helpful but nothing like this Writing SE. The Law SE has helped me out quite a bit too. But the most helpful of all my research was the paid online consultancy. Visiting the vet was great, I got a tour of the facilities and it helped me build the setting. But the crucial resolution to the scene came from the consultancy. Worth every penny. – GGx - Reinstate Monica Cellio Jul 24 '18 at 8:02
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I actually find it somewhat intriguing that you're asking this on Stack Exchange.

Consider that by now, Stack Exchange has over 170 different sites on different subjects, which aim to draw professionals and dedicated amateurs in the respective fields.

Stack Exchange isn't the only such site. There's tons of web forums as well as other sites that draw varying degrees of professionals in different fields. A web search for "discuss <subject>" or "ask about <subject>" seems likely to get you some relevant pointers.

To take your specific example of asking something to a doctor, there's the Health Stack Exchange, the site blurb for which is Q&A for medical specialists, students, dietitians, and anyone with health-related questions. While questions seeking "personal medical advice" are off topic there, if a question is general in nature yet specific enough to be answerable, I imagine that they might be able to help.

What's more, people who hang out on Stack Exchange often (albeit far from always) do so in order to answer questions posed by strangers. That sounds like pretty much exactly what you want.

Open the site drop-down in the top bar, type a key word for the subject you're planning on asking about into the filter textbox, and see which site(s) show up. By now, chances are pretty good that you'll find a site where what you want to ask is at least moderately on topic.

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    I actually have the Health StackExchange page open in another tab. I just wasn't sure how they would respond to such a hypothetical as writers might have. Thanks for the advice. – IchabodE Jul 24 '18 at 8:19
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    @IchabodE You could always ask in their meta or chat if it is okay. – Belle-Sophie Jul 24 '18 at 8:22
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Perhaps reach our directly to doctors in the field of practice and introduce yourself as doing research for a book on a topic within the realm of their speciality.

Also try contacting via email, and see if you can get them to respond to your list if questions laid out in the email.

I’ve been surprised at the positive feedback and helpfulness that professionals in several different fields of expertise (law enforcement, surgeons, congressman, etc.), have been more then happy to help me with once i found the correct approach in how i went about asking for it.

Persistence is key. Best of luck.

Cheers, J~

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    To add to this answer, academic researchers in particular are often happy to engage with people over email who have questions about their work, so long as you show that you've done enough research that your question requires an expert to answer. – Emory Bell Jul 24 '18 at 13:28
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I think it could be a great idea to send an expert in the field a small excerpt to hook them into the story you are trying to tell while asking for some help with the technical matters. A somewhat unethical method would be to include some very wrong technical details that could aggravate their professional mind into correcting you, thereby giving you the advice you seek!

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Pick up the phone and call them and say, "Hello, my name is X. I am a writer and I am researching a piece on Y for Z. I will credit you, of course." This pushes the I'm-gonna-get-my-name-in-the-paper button. After food and sex, getting your name in the paper is the third most potent human drive. At 19, fresh out of high school, I worked as a reporter on a small town paper, and it was amazing who I could get on the phone with that simple line.

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