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You’re away on a work trip when you get strep throat, and you don’t have time to go to the doctor.
There’s a pandemic outbreak and you need an at-home consultation since you can’t leave home.
Wouldn’t it be nice to get a prescription without finding a doctor’s office, trying to schedule an appointment and filling out all of that endless paperwork?
This is when using an online medical office or virtual doctor app can be handy.
- Why Use Them?
- When To Use?
- How It Works (Video)
- Potential Issues
- Best Companies
- More Tips
From the comfort of your bed, you can visit with a physician, get a diagnosis and have medication prescribed. Learn more about how these services work and if they really work as they’re advertised.
It’s important to note that an online doctor is not meant to replace your primary physician. It’s important to see your regular physician when possible. In instances where your doctor is unavailable, or you are traveling for work or vacation, an online doctor can be convenient.
The virtual doctor apps reviewed in this article are available 24/7/365. That means if you get sick Friday evening and your doctor’s office is closed over the weekend, you don’t have to wait until Monday morning to call in and try to get an appointment. Instead, you can use a virtual doctor app to get assistance from a doctor that can prescribe most medications that would help you get to feeling better, hopefully by the start of the work week.
What if your baby is running a low fever? Should you go to the emergency room or wait until your pediatrician’s office is open the next day? A telehealth company can help put your mind at ease, and you can find whether a trip to the ER is recommended or if you can save your money and administer Baby Aspirin until your regular doctor is available.
Virtual doctors are unable to write strong prescriptions, so for some health concerns, you may need to see an in-person health professional. Most of these telemedicine consultations can treat common conditions like allergies, bronchitis, pink eye, gout, cold sores, anxiety, etc.
Do not mistake an online doctor for an emergency department at a hospital. If there is a life threatening situation or more serious health related issue, you should go immediately to an emergency room. Telehealth companies are only able to treat less severe ailments like the flu, allergies, UTIs and more. More serious conditions like heart attacks, strokes, seizures, etc. should be taken care of at the ER.
Please do NOT go in to visit a doctor if you feel you are experiencing coronavirus symptoms (fever, cough, fatigue/tiredness, difficulty breathing). You risk spreading the virus to others if you do have it, and if you don’t, you risk contracting it. Please call in or consider an online doctor’s appointment instead.
COVID-19 is a highly infectious pandemic that is affecting a large percentage of the global population. The number of deaths has already surpassed those from the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic.
Read our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guide To The Pandemic to find out how you can prepare.
Although the video below is from Doctor on Demand, this is how all we feel most virtual physician consultations should work.
This is a personal account from a Safe Smart Living member.
I had raging ear pain one Sunday afternoon (my fault – let a swimmer’s ear infection go too long) and needed to find a doctor fast. I saw on my healthcare website (Blue Cross Blue Shield) that they mentioned telehealth, and one of the providers they mentioned was MDLive. So I went to their website, went through the sign-up process, submitted my health insurance information, and found a doctor, all in the span of about 15 minutes.
As my ear pain intensified, I started worrying if this had been the right decision. Little did I know then that I would be on the phone with a doctor in less than 5 minutes! I was able to see wait times (for a phone option as well as a video option, both were listed as < 15 minutes), and choose “first available” or “schedule an appointment.” I chose first available, submitted my callback number (my cell), added their number to my address book to make sure my phone would ring, and probably 30 seconds after I hit submit the phone rang and a doctor was counseling me.
Great experience, the doctor was very professional, asked poignant questions and I replied with my symptoms until he had enough information to make a diagnosis (ear canal infection). The doctor then called in an oral (ear drops) antibiotic to my closest pharmacy (a two-minute drive from my house), and not long thereafter, I was being treated. Twenty-four hours later, my ear finally has some relief! – Alex S. Safe Smart Living
There have been many complaints about services that offer online physician appointments. Some people have complained that they have had difficulties with their regular physicians because they are now spending more and more of their time administering services as a virtual doctor to make extra cash. This results in them not responding to their regular patients’ questions promptly about their conditions and concerns.
Those that use these virtual doctor apps complain of many things including:
- rushed appointments
- not receiving prescriptions the doctor promised
- being charged but not getting help
- rude doctors
- long wait times
- more expensive than a copay
However, please note that not everyone using these services experiences these issues. As with all caregivers, your experience will vary on a case-by-case situation and you may be able to find reviews for the specific doctor you are considering on any given service provider’s website.
Below you’ll find an alphabetical listing of the telehealth companies we’ve reviewed.
Amwell has an app that lets you choose your doctor and pharmacy before you video chat or speak with the doctor on the phone. There are no appointments necessary, just sign in and have your visit. Amwell offers urgent care, nutritional counseling, breastfeeding support, therapy and psychiatry.
One unique thing about Amwell is its extensive FAQ section which has common questions about illnesses and ailments. So instead of having a doctor appointment and paying, you may be able to find an answer to your question in the FAQ section. Amwell has one of the best reputations in this comparison. (ARKANSAS RESIDENTS: Amwell does not serve the state of Arkansas.)
- Urgent Care: $59 or less
- Online Therapy: $95 or less
- Psychiatry visit: $200 initial visit
Doctor on Demand offers medical care and mental health assistance through doctors and counselors. This telehealth company treats 90% of the top medical issues commonly seen by urgent care facilities. Doctor on Demand does not treat more serious, life threatening problems. It can help you quit smoking or with weight loss assistance. There are also lactation consultants available for mothers experiencing breastfeeding issues. The app lets you video chat with doctors and you can get prescriptions, order lab work and receive necessary medical advice from doctors.
Doctor on Demand includes some pricing online, and from what we’ve seen, it has an excellent customer service reputation online. However, there are some reviews about rude doctors and prescriptions not being received. Doctor on Demand has one of the better reputations in this comparison.
Pricing Without Insurance
- Medical Visits: $75
- Therapy: $79 starting price
- Psychiatry: $229 initial visit
You’ve got an ailment, but you’re not sure if you should go to your regular physician, a specialist or even the emergency room. HealthTap directs you to the correct professional, so you get the care you need fast and without spending money at unnecessary appointments. What makes HealthTap unique is HOPES (Health Operating System), which gives patients immediate access to 108,000 doctors. Doctors can provide care through video, text or voice and patients can use HOPES with a web connection anywhere.
The HealthTap app lets you communicate with doctors via text, over the phone or video chat. You can get prescriptions, referrals, medication reminders and medical advice from doctors through HealthTap. However, pricing is not listed online, and there are complaints about patients receiving poor medical advice and not getting a response from doctors. In the end, we would recommend using HealthTap with caution because of the number of negative complaints we found.
MDLive can connect patients to doctors for common ailments like the flu, headaches, UTIs and more, or for more chronic issues like acne and allergies. Patients can also meet with a therapist of their choosing that is in the MDLive system, which is nice that you get to vet them yourself. Prescriptions are available in two or three-day refills, which is handy for when you’re on vacation and lose your meds or run out over the weekend.
The other prescription option is a 30-day maximum, if the MDLive physician deems a prescription necessary. MDLive boasts an average wait time of fewer than 15 minutes and says an appointment is $49 or less. Unfortunately, the reviews we found online were all negative, so we can’t recommend using MDLive.
Teladoc offers 24/7 access 365 days a year. With a Teladoc membership, you have access to more than 3,100 health care professionals including physicians, dermatologists and therapists. Most members speak with a doctor within ten minutes of requesting an appointment. The Teladoc physicians can prescribe medication if the doctor deems it necessary. You can schedule an appointment to fit your timeline and talk to a doctor over the phone or through video via the app. If you are seeking a dermatologist or behavioral specialist, you will be assigned a provider based on who is the first available.
For any subsequent visits, you have the option to keep the same professional or be given the first provider available. Teladoc also has professionals that can help you quit smoking. Unfortunately, pricing isn’t listed online, and we’ve found many complaints including scheduled visits not being on time, poor customer service and doctors rushing appointments and not helping patients. Overall, in our research, we found more complaints than positive reviews about Teladoc, which is why we cannot recommend them.
What Can Teladoc Prescribe?
Teladoc doctors can prescribe medications for the following conditions and more:
- cold and flu
- pink eye
- skin rash
- grief counseling
For a full list, visit Teladoc’s website or speak with a representative.
Online doctor appointments are also convenient for older adults who have difficulty getting around on their own. If you or a loved one are in this type of situation, we recommend a medical alert system to give you and your family peace of mind. If online medicine is not available with your current insurance, you may also want to check out some other insurance options.
What types of ailments would you use an online doctor app for?
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