We use computers and cell phones to do, well, almost everything—so it only seems fitting that you can now have an appointment with a doctor without ever leaving your home.
Telemedicine, the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology, is cropping up more and more. You have lots of options too, from simple apps to the new telemedicine kiosk, HealthSpot, that Rite Aid just purchased.
Major insurance companies like Highmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield are also suggesting online appointments to their patients. Virtual medicine is a convenient option, available 24/7 when you are in need of quick care for minor illnesses. Take a look at this example ad from Highmark’s page.
What can I expect from a virtual doctor app?
There are several things to keep in mind when deciding which one to use—or whether to go in person to your doctor or to an emergency room.
- Most telemedicine apps and websites are available in a limited selection of states, and some cover particular specialties (like dermatology or women’s health).
- Prices range from $15 up to nearly $100, depending on the length of your session and what you’re seeing the doctor for.
- Almost all will require either a video session, or at the very least, a photo of you.
- You may need to supply your blood pressure. Most apps recommend that you use one of the blood pressure checks at your local pharmacy or grocery store, if you don’t have a way to check at home.
- Many are available 24/7, but others may have a slower response time outside of business hours.
- Some accept insurance, and may even partner with a specific provider, while others have a flat rate.
- Some work with one pharmacy in particular—others will send your prescription to the pharmacy of your choice.
Essentially—there are a lot of choices. If you’re considering using an app to see a doctor, shop around to find the right one for you.
When should I not use a virtual doctor?
First, and most important, if you think you’re seriously ill or experiencing an emergency, don’t try to see a doctor using an app. Call 911 or go to the emergency room.
You can’t do a yearly physical on any of these services, and most can only help with simple conditions like acne, upper respiratory infections (cold and flu), acid reflux, or urinary tract infections.
So what options are out there?
- Lemonaid: For a $15 per consultation fee, the doctors at Lemonaid can review and prescribe medications to treat common conditions like cold and flu, acid reflux, acne, and birth control. They will send your prescription to the pharmacy of your choice, and have a 2 hour turnaround during business hours. However, the service is only available to patients in California, Florida, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington.
- Doctor On Demand: An app and website that offers live video appointments, diagnosis, and prescriptions if needed. They offer consultations on a variety of conditions, including pediatrics and mental health.
- American Wellness Corporation (Amwell): Amwell offers a call-in option, in addition to a website and app. Speaking with a medical doctor will be $49 or less, but they offer other services including nutrition diet and nutrition for $25, and mental health visits at $95 per hour. This is another 24/7 service.
- Dermatologist On Call: This service is exclusive to skin conditions, and advertises visits for $59 or less. They offer 24/7 access, and do accept Highmark insurance—otherwise, you’ll pay out of pocket. You can use the service in 35 states, and they are working to add more coverage.
- Walgreens MDLIVE: Walgreens also offers an app with virtual consultations for a few conditions, and prescriptions if needed. Doctors are available 24/7, at $49 per visit. The service is available in more than 30 states, and coming soon in the rest.
Many other companies are also out there trying to make a name for themselves by focusing on a specific population—women:
- Nurx exclusively prescribes birth control, but will do the entire consultation, and deliver your prescription to you for a total of $15. They also offer automatic refills once you’ve had your initial visit.
- Prjkt Ruby offers a similar service, at $20 per month, including shipping. They also have a feature called Take1Give1 that donates 25 cents for each fill to support access to contraception for women in the developing world.
- Maven is a little bit more robust, and offers video consultations for women on everything from birth control to pregnancy, nutrition, and mental health. They set appointments for slots of 10 minutes to 1 hour, and prices start at $18.
Is there anything else I should know?
Check the restrictions for telemedicine in your state—your insurance plan or Medicaid cover a virtual visit at the same rate as seeing a regular doctor, and even more only require coverage from Medicaid.
Do your research. Make sure the website is secure (look for an “https” in your browser’s address bar), and double check licenses. Your state should have a way to check the licenses for both pharmacies (for those services that will deliver your prescription) and doctors.