About Author — Margaret Spera is a Connecticut-based nurse practitioner. She has worked in hospital settings, family practices and senior care facilities for over 40 years.

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog.

How Do Online Doctor Visits Work?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013 saw a total of 922.6 million individual doctor visits. The most frequent reasons for these visits involved coughing, while the most commonly diagnosed condition was essential hypertension, or high blood pressure.

About 53.2% of these visits were made to primary care physicians, the remaining visits involved emergency rooms, urgent care, and walk-in clinics.

While primary and urgent care centers play an important role in the healthcare system, they come with a variety of drawbacks, from commutes to long wait times to congested waiting rooms. Combining this with many people’s inability to afford health insurance means many conventional, in-person physicians are inaccessible.

Thankfully, online doctors and telehealth are becoming more popular, offering easy access to healthcare in the convenience of your own home.

Let’s take a closer look at how online doctor visits work, the benefits and costs of online doctor consultations, and how you can take advantage of them to maintain great health and wellbeing.

The Problems With Primary & Urgent Care Centers

As necessary as they are, conventional primary and urgent care centers come with a wide range of potential problems.

  • Too Many Patients
    One of the biggest issues involves sheer visit numbers. While the demand for good urgent care centers and walk-in clinics has remained high, the decline in resources and clinic staff have led to fewer urgent care centers across the country.
  • Not Accessible
    The scarcity of clinics in many areas forces potential patients to travel long distances just to see a doctor, presenting accessibility problems for those who don’t have easy access to a car or public transportation, not to mention the inconvenience and time wasted traveling.
  • Not Available
    Some in-person urgent care clinics are not open seven days a week. This can make it difficult for many people to even visit urgent care centers on their own schedules.

Ultimately, all of these factors—few clinics, long commutes, limited hours and days of operation—can lead to packed waiting rooms with long wait times. This is more than just an annoyance. The extra stress of being in a overcrowded waiting room can negatively affect your health, flooding your body with stress hormones that can hamper your immune system.

Urgent Care Associated Illness
Full waiting rooms can also cause healthcare-associated infections. Infections may develop while getting treated for other medical or surgical conditions, including urinary tract infections caused by a catheter and infection of a surgical site.

Sitting in the confined space of a waiting room for potentially hours with other ill people can easily lead to you contracting an illness.

For instance, you may be asked to wait with other patients before you’re treated for a sinus infection. During this time it is likely that you will be surrounded by other sick and contagious people. If you’re next to someone with a bacterial infection, such as strep throat, you’re putting your already weakened immune system at risk; you may actually walk out sicker than when you walked in.

Additionally, as a sick patient, you risk infecting those around you, including other waiting patients and even the doctor who sees you.

Understanding Online Doctors

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While some people may hesitate to seek medical help online, online physicians are extremely qualified and offer more accessible, affordable, convenient, and can provide comprehensive services to patients.

At PlushCare we provide primary and urgent care assistance, meaning we treat any common illness or injuries that are not life threatening. This includes diagnosis and personalized online prescription medication.

Online doctors are a good option because, according to doctors all around the world, 90% of diagnoses can be made by asking the right questions. So, more often than not, a doctor doesn’t actually have to be in the room with you to know what’s wrong and prescribe medication.

At PlushCare, each doctor has trained at one of the top 25 medical institutions in the country, including Stanford, Harvard, UCLA, Yale, UCSF, and Baylor, ensuring that you get quality care from knowledgeable medical professionals. Our online doctors have an average of 15 years of experience and can give accurate diagnoses and prescriptions online.

In fact, 97% of conditions are treated during the first visit with an online doctor.

Online Doctor Visits: What to Expect

Online doctor visits differ from platform to platform. Most will require you to register an account with them to help provide doctors with necessary information and maintain contact with physicians and supporting staff. Some services include apps for easy mobile access when you’re on the go.

PlushCare’s process involves three simple steps:

  1. Booking an appointment
  2. Talking with your physician
  3. Picking up your prescription, if needed

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Book an Appointment

Schedule an online doctor visit with a doctor of your choice by calling PlushCare (888-311-4985) or visit our booking page.

Whether you need a same-day appointment, or want to plan ahead, bookings are available 24/7. This is designed to give you complete control over your own schedule and needs.

Oftentimes an appointment will be available within the hour. While scheduling an appointment, you will be asked to sign in or, if you’re a new patient, create a profile. You can set up your payment options and insert your health insurance information (if you have it).

We also accept patients without health insurance.

Talk to Your Physician

Once it’s your appointment time, you have two options:

  1. Video chat, which helps you better connect with your physician and receive a visual diagnosis if necessary. Video chats give your physician a better look at any symptoms you may be exhibiting.
  2. The doctor will call you directly by phone. This is your actual “visit,” during which time you should feel free to speak to your doctor about what is bothering you and any questions you may have.

Consulting your doctor and receiving treatment generally takes 10 to 15 minutes.

It’s important to note that many states, like California, Texas, Florida, and Georgia to name a few, the law requires video appointments.

At the end of this consultation, your doctor will provide a diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan for your condition. Your doctor may also prescribe any necessary medications (as permitted under law).

Pick Up Your Prescriptions

If you do require prescriptions, your online doctor will send them electronically to the pharmacy of your choice. You can pick your medication up at your convenience.

PlushCare doctors can provide up to 90 days of a prescription for any medications classified by the DEA as a non controlled substances. Additionally online doctors can give prescription refills for up to 90 days.

What Prescriptions Can Online Doctors Write?

The most common types of conditions online doctors write prescriptions for are:

Primary Care Conditions:

Urgent Care (non-emergency) Conditions:

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To maintain safety when prescribing online, online doctors will:

  • Determine all your current medical conditions, including your drug history and current prescriptions as well as over-the-counter medications that you may be using.
  • Identify what’s causing your current condition and perform a thorough examination of your health.
  • Make sure that your condition presents enough justification to actually prescribe medication.
  • Rule out the possibility of any contraindications, which refers to any situation where the medication may actually cause harm to you, either based on personal health or interactions with other medications. PlushCare prevents negative medication interactions by having patients enter past and current medications, as well as allergies, into our high-tech software program. This technology eliminates the possibility of human error by preventing the doctor from prescribing any medications that could be harmful.

Keeping patients safe is a doctor’s responsibility. They should be able to fully explain the prescription process and give you reasons for choosing a certain medication over others.

Online Doctors cannot currently prescribe controlled substances, including:

  • Medicinal marijuana
  • Antipsychotic medications such as Zyprexa, Risperdol
  • Stimulants, including Adderall and Ritalin
  • Narcotics, like morphine, oxycodone, and Vicodin
  • Sedatives and sleep aids, including Xanax, Ambien, Ativan, and Lunesta

Telehealth is not appropriate for serious conditions that require immediate attention or emergency care. If you experience any life-threatening issues, call 911 or go to an emergency room immediately.

While laws surrounding online prescriptions are constantly evolving, the Federation of State Medical Boards, a national non-profit organization that promotes good medical practices and regulations, continues to push for policies that allow online doctors to write prescriptions as long as they meet certain technical and clinical criteria.

Screening and Testing

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Along with virtual visits and prescriptions, PlushCare and other online health platforms can help you order lab tests and i.e.screen for sexually transmitted infections or thyroid dysfunction.

Some of the most common sexually transmitted infections that can be ordered online include:

PlushCare allows you to find diagnostic labs near you and the physician will order the tests you need. You don’t need to talk to a doctor to get these tests done, allowing for an easy, hassle-free process that ensures your privacy and confidentiality.

If during your online appointment the doctor thinks you need testing before giving a diagnosis they will order the necessary tests for you and refer you to the closest lab.

Other Services

Some online doctors can provide more than just phone and video visits. Some telehealth services include nutrition counseling for special diets, weight loss, and eating disorders.

Others even have therapists for depression, anxiety, and other mental and emotional health issues. Online doctors can also provide doctor’s notes to other providers as necessary.

Online Doctors & Insurance

At PlushCare we accept health insurance from most providers:

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  • UnitedHealthcare
  • Anthem Blue Cross
  • Cigna
  • Humana
  • BCBS
  • Blue Shield of California

If you don’t see your provider listed give us a call at 888-881-5896 to see if we can accept your insurance or click here for more information.

For those without insurance we offer an affordable flat-fee rate of $99 a visit.

Whether you are making a copay or paying a flat-fee, you will only be charged if the online doctor is able to treat you. You will not be charged until 30 minutes after your appointment; during this time the doctor can cancel the scheduled payment if they were unable to help you.

Online Doctors and HIPAA

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which was passed in 1996, was developed as a means of creating regulations that protect a patient’s privacy and health information. The HIPAA Privacy Rule established national standards that protect your health information, while the Security Rule extends those same standards to digital health records.

Considering the ease of access and growing cyber threats, any reputable online doctors and telehealth providers should openly state that they comply with HIPAA.

PlushCare is HIPAA compliant and uses private and secure electronic health records systems to keep all medical records safe.

Furthermore, PlushCare’s staff undergoes specific training to ensure protection of patient information. This applies to all databases and web platforms that PlushCare
uses.

Your Options In Telemedicine

Who are the major companies offering telehealth services and how do they all compare? There is no one-size fits all when it comes to your personal health needs so make sure you know your options. Every platform offers different physician and financing options, and may even specialize in different services. Stay in the know and choose care that is right for you with this easy to digest overview of your telehealth options.

PlushCare
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Delivering Health and Happiness – One Patient at a Time

  • Mission:Challenge the status quo by providing every American convenient and affordable access to the best trained doctors in the country
  • Network quality: PlushCare’s network of doctors are trained at the top 50 medical institutions in the country, including Stanford, UCLA, and UCSF
  • Services offered: Physician consultations, health information, prescription refills, lab test services, and prescriptions, including for PrEP/TRUVADA, sexually transmitted diseases, and infections in the ears, kidneys, sinus, or urinary tract.
  • Accessibility: The PlushCare process involves three simple steps: making an appointment, talking with your physician, and picking up your prescription.
  • Financing options: PlushCare accepts major health insurances by charging your copay or coinsurance and provides discount card for medications as well as discounts to veterans and active military.

American Well
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The Nation’s Telehealth Leader

  • Mission: Improve access to quality care and make it more affordable and transparent for consumers
  • Network quality: American Well has more than 8,000 providers connected to over 800 hospitals and health systems
  • Services offered: Access to clinical services including primary care, urgent care, and follow-up visits as well as mental health therapists and nutritionists available for consultation
  • Accessibility: Patients can access online care through an app and by setting up on demand, video-enabled visits with physicians via their computers or through iPad, iPhone, or Android device
  • Financing options: American Well has a flat fee rate per visit that is less if you obtain their services through your employer’s health insurance plan

Doctor on Demand
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See a Doctor, 24/7

  • Mission: Improve the world’s health through compassionate care and innovation
  • Network quality: Doctor on Demand offers a wide variety of physicians including internists and family practitioners and claim a 98% success rate with video calls
  • Services offered: Non-emergent clinical issues such as eye problems, common colds, common prescription refill requests, muscle or sport injuries as well as a new moms online assistance from board-certified lactation consultants
  • Accessibility: A physician can be accessed within minutes on a mobile device or desktop or laptop with a camera and from iOS or Android platforms
  • Financing options: Calls are a flat rate of $40 and can be paid with a health care spending account, flexible spending account, or credit card

Teladoc
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The Quality You Need with the Convenience You Want

  • Mission: Provide a new kind of healthcare experience, one with better convenience, outcomes and value
  • Network quality: Teladoc is one of the oldest telehealth companies and has a capacity to process thousands of patients with up to 952,000 visits in 2016
  • Services offered: Pediatric services, non-emergency medical issues, dermatological conditions, sexual health consultations, and mental health consultations for issues such as depression and addiction
  • Accessibility: From the moment a person seeks out a phone or online video consultation, Teladoc claims an average callback time of 16 minutes and 92% of members reported the consultations resolved their medical questions
  • Financing options: Fees are subscription based and will vary based on your plan

MDLive
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Virtual Care, Anywhere

  • Mission: Bring quality healthcare that is convenient and affordable to everyone through the use of technology
  • Network quality: MDLive has a network of over 2,000 physicians and healthcare professionals available by phone or online video 24 hours a day
  • Services offered: Non-emergency medical conditions such as allergies, urinary tract infections (UTIs), headaches, rashes, and fevers as well as access to therapists and dermatologists
  • Accessibility: Most patients can access MDLive services through their employers, health plans, health systems, and even through Walgreens where customers can see a doctor through MDLive video technology
  • Financing options: In 2013, MDLive completed a deal with Cigna that provided some of its health plan members through self-insured employer’s access

Try An Online Doctors Visit

Now that you know how online doctors visits work, hopefully you will be interested to try it out and see how you like it. As mentioned before, seeing a doctor online makes it so much easier to get the treatment you need.

If you’re curious to try an online doctor, contact PlushCare and book an appointment to see an online doctor today.

Read More of Our Online Doctor Series:

Get Prescribed Online:

The prescriptions above are just a fraction of what PlushCare can help you with. Book an appointment today (or anytime, bookings are available 24/7, so we’ll leave it up to you) and see how fast, convenient and affordable online prescriptions are!

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