How Telemedicine Can Make Getting Your Prescription Easier

clipboard with health insurance on it
Katie Mui
Katie Mui is on the Research Team at GoodRx.
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There’s an app for almost everything these days, and getting a prescription for your ailments is no different. Telemedicine – which let’s people find a physician, schedule an appointment, and get care all in the comfort of your own home or office – also allows people to get prescription medications quickly, without having to go to the doctors.

For many conditions (mental health, dermatology) and in many situations (birth control, prescription refills for chronic conditions), telemedicine can make things a lot faster and easier. But with more than a half dozen services out there, it’s worth knowing which might work best for your needs, and what telemedicine can – and can’t – provide.

When is telemedicine right for me?

Convenience: The #1 reason for a virtual doctor’s visit is convenience. If you’re coming down with something and don’t want to leave your bed, a quick call or video chat with a doctor might sound appealing. It’s also a good option if you can’t take time off work or school, or would need help with childcare. You save time by skipping the drive to the doctor’s office and the waiting room. It’s also appropriate when you need a straightforward refill or prescription for a relatively safe medication.

Accessibility: Telemedicine providers have typically been divided into those that help for general health concerns and those appropriate for specialized care. But more recently, many general health apps have started covering more specialized areas like mental health, sexual health, dermatology, preventive care, and chronic conditions. To boost these services, they’ve also partnered with local labs to offer convenient and affordable tests and screenings.

This can be a real help when you need specialized expertise, as an app can match you with a board certified physician, sparing you the hassle of searching for an appropriate in-network provider who’s also accepting new patients and close enough to get to. This means it’s easier for anyone, anywhere, to get exactly the type of medical attention they need.

Routine treatments: Telemedicine works great if you have a condition that can be treated with a routine medication (acne, acid reflux, herpes) or need a refill for low-risk long-term medications (birth control, statins, thyroid meds). For chronic conditions (asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure), you may only need an initial consultation with your virtual doctor – then request refills through the app.

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Saving money: Many telemedicine companies accept insurance or partner with specific insurers or employers to offer lower fees (either through a co-pay or a subsidized fee). But even for those that don’t work with insurance, you may find that a virtual visit is cheaper than your typical insurance co-pay.

Of course, the cost of a visit will vary, depending on what medical services you’re looking for. A 10 minute general consultation for common issues (cold & flu, allergies, pink eye, UTI) start at around $15 while a 45 minute psychiatric consultation can run you about $250. Some online birth control prescription services like Nurx and Pandia Health are free.

Patient support: Some apps provide access to a care coordinator or care team to ensure a good experience. Even before a consultation, they’ll help you submit required information, like photo ID, insurance details, pharmacy preferences, and medical history. Then they’ll follow up to see how your treatment is going, and even help find cost saving medication options, even without insurance.

And when is it not?

Though some telemedicine companies boast “urgent care” services, this typically means general medical care (think sinus infections, migraines, mild sports injuries). If you think you’re seriously ill or experiencing an emergency, call 911 or go to the emergency room.

What are my options for telemedicine?

There are A LOT of telemedicine companies, so what follows is by no means an exhaustive list. As with drug prices, it’s important to shop around to find one that fits your budget and your needs.

(Scroll right to view the full chart.)

Lemonaid Teladoc Doctor On Demand MDLIVE PlushCare HeyDoctor
Services General health
Women’s health
Men’s health
Smoking cessation
Cholesterol management
Labs & screening
General health
Dermatology
Sexual health
Behavioral health
Smoking cessation
General health
Women’s health
Men’s health
Chronic conditions
Preventive care

Labs & screening
General health
Dermatology
Behavioral health
General health
HIV prevention (PrEP)
Labs & screening
General health
Women’s health
Men’s health
Smoking cessation
Labs & screening
Fees start at $25 $45 $75 $59 $99 $15
Accepts insurance No Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Open 24/7 No Yes Yes Yes No No
Supported devices iPhone, Android, computer iPhone, Android, computer iPhone, Android, computer iPhone, Android, computer iPhone, Android, computer iPhone, Android, computer
Available in these states AZ, CA, CT, FL, GA, IL, MD, MI, MO, NJ, NY, OH, OR, PA, RI, SC, VA, WA All All All AL, AZ, CA, CO, FL, GA, HI, ID, IA, IL, KS, MI, MN, MS, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NY, NC, OH, OR, PA, TX, UT, VA, WV, WA, WI, WY AK, AZ, CA, CT, FL, GA, IL, IN, KY, MO, MT, NE, NY, NC, OH, OR, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VA, VT, WA, WI, WY

What else is new?

The last time we wrote about telemedicine in 2016, we mentioned a few companies (Nurx, Prjkt Ruby, Maven) that specifically focus on women’s health. Since then, we’ve started to see more male-oriented services pop up, hoping to help with common men’s-health issues like erectile dysfunction and hair loss.

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