We live increasingly busy lives. And while being buried in our phones all day isn’t ideal, there’s no question that some things have become much easier because of technology. Medical care is no exception.
Telemedicine has made it seamless to access great medical care from a phone or computer.
Driven by faster internet, smartphone ubiquity and the ease of filling prescriptions online, virtual doctors are becoming a huge part of the American health system.
What is the Use of Telemedicine?
Not only is telemedicine making medical care easy, it’s making it accessible to more people.
Online doctors are enabling care in places where it’s difficult to access, like in sparsely populated areas or places with few doctors.
For instance, Doctors Without Borders relays questions about tough cases from its physicians in Niger, South Sudan and elsewhere to its network of 280 experts around the world, and back again via the internet.
States, especially rural ones like Alaska, have adopted very favorable stances on telemedicine — loosening restrictions and increasing access.
Telemedicine can be used in countless ways to help both providers and patients. Video conferencing between patients and doctors for urgent and primary care needs, is an example of telemedicine in practice.
There’s no question that telemedicine is entering a time of explosive growth. But just how fast is it growing and where can you go to access it?
How Fast is Telemedicine Growing?
Providers, large employers and even the government are adding telemedicine offerings to their suite of benefits.
In 2016, there were 1.2 million telemedicine visits, which is up from 1 million in 2015.
Still, telemedicine makes up an extremely small part of the total healthcare market, accounting for about .4% of yearly mental health and ambulatory care visits.
What’s the Difference Between Telehealth and Telemedicine?
Specifically refers to the use of technologies and electronic communications to provide remote clinical services to patients.
The World Health Organization defines telemedicine as the use of telecommunications solely to diagnose and treat patients.
Clinical services provided by a health professional that fall under this definition include remote:
- Medical diagnosis and evaluations
- Digital transmission of medical imaging
- Video consultations with specialists
This word is all-encompassing of technological healthcare, information services, and education in a broad sense. It generally is a bigger umbrella that includes the terms telemedicine and telecare.
The World Health Organization defines telehealth as the use of computer-assisted telecommunications to support management, surveillance, literature and access to medical knowledge. Through technology, a variety of services in healthcare can be provided remotely and these services are also part of the telehealth definition.
- Educational services on health information including healthy living blogs
- Doctor-patient consultations i.e. telemedicine
- Monitoring of vital signs, ECG, blood pressure, etc for remote detections of fluctuations
- Prescribing certain medications or test orders
This word is referring to the technology that enables patients to receive services on-the-go or in their homes. Rather than the clinical services provided, telecare relates to the technology that is used such as medical alert systems, mobile monitoring devices, and telecommunications technology like computers and telephones.
These technological platforms have the capabilities to track and monitor lifestyle changes for better tailored care or receive alerts for real-time emergencies.
Often, when people get sick or injured suddenly, they may seek immediate help. People typically do this by visiting urgent care centers.
The Urgent Care Association of America estimates about 7,100 urgent care centers in the United States. Each individual center averaged about 14,000 visits in 2014.
This breaks down to about 50 per day and 4 per hour. The demand for good urgent care centers and walk-in clinics has remained high despite a decline in resources and clinic staff. This means there are fewer urgent care centers in cities.
Those that are available often have limited hours or are not open on weekends, which can be difficult for those with traditional 9-to-5 jobs.
This leads to problems such as:
- Packed waiting rooms with long wait times This only adds further physical and mental stress.
- Picking up an infection in a waiting room. Imagine waiting for over an hour in a packed waiting room where other ill people are coughing and sneezing. As hard as you try, you may end up walking out of the urgent care center with a cold, flu, or other contagious illness. During the 2018 flu season, the CDC actually advised people with flu-like symptoms not to go to physical clinics. They actually recommend telemedicine so as to avoid waiting room contaminations.
- Increase in commute time for patients. Many potential patients must travel long distances, including to neighboring towns to get urgent care. On top of gas money and traffic, travel can be difficult for those who do not own a car or have easy access to public transportation
Urgent care centers may be necessary for community health but they come with a variety of drawbacks that include commutes and long waits.
Many people are also unable to afford the costs of many conventional, in-person physician visits — which can be $200+ per visit.
Thankfully, with the advent of new technology and telecommunications, virtual doctors and telehealth have become viable solutions for those in need of urgent care.
What are the Benefits of Virtual Doctors?
A virtual doctor consultation alleviates some of the headache and cost associated with in-person doctor visits.
- Considerate, Comfortable, and Convenient: Staying at home for a virtual doctor consultation not only ensures you don’t infect doctors, staff members, or other patients with your illness but can help you heal faster with the level of comfort and convenience it affords. The relief of knowing you don’t have to wait long hours in a room or experience the sights of an emergency room just to get a prescription also adds to the comfort levels.
- Security and Expertise: There is little need to worry about security and the experience and knowledge of those helping you when it comes to seeking virtual medical consultations. Most virtual doctors have plenty of both: with secured servers, compliances with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and reputable methods to vet doctors. For example at PlushCare we only employ doctors from the top 50 medical schools, so you know you’re getting the best level of care.
- Easy Prescription Process: If you require a prescription, your virtual doctor can prescribe most medications remotely, within the confines of the state’s online prescription laws. They will simply send the prescription to a pharmacy near you. You can pick it up at your convenience as further detailed in the sections below
- Improvement from Self-Diagnoses: Although the internet makes it easy to find whatever information you want wherever you are, there is no one size fit all when it comes to medical advice so self misdiagnoses often occur. Virtual doctor consultations are generally a significant step up from self-diagnoses through internet searches. They give you the opportunity to speak with an actual doctor, receive a diagnosis, and get a personalized treatment plan.
- No Location Boundaries: Traffic, gas, parking, waiting for the bus. With virtual doctor consultations, you don’t have to worry about most of these common hurdles. Without needing to travel or step outside of your home, you can gain access to a wide range of trained and experienced medical professionals from a place of your comfort. For most processes, with just one phone call you can get expert help even if there are no urgent care centers in your area.
What Do I Need to Know About Telemedicine?
While there are clear benefits to accessing care online and they are very different to automated sites that simply check for symptoms, virtual doctors have limitations to what type of services they can provide.
Emergency situations that include excessive bleeding or broken areas of the body will require in-person urgent care visits.
What States Allow Telemedicine?
Things can get complicated at the state level regarding telemedicine. Different states have different laws surrounding telemedicine and how and when it can be used. The state regulations and laws surrounding doctors on the web and telehealth are constantly changing.
Generally speaking, all states allow some form of telemedicine. PlushCare is able to have video consultations and write prescriptions for patients in all 50 states. That said the licensing laws vary from state to state.
In some states you can only meet with a doctor who is licensed in your state, others have more relaxed laws and allow patients to meet with doctors who are licensed in another state.
Some states allow a phone call to suffice as a consultation, while others require a video consultation.
Learn more about your states telehealth laws, here.
Thankfully, the Federation of State Medical Boards and other non-profit organizations continue to endorse regulations and national policies that support prescriptions from web doctors as long as certain technical and medical criteria are met.
Who Can Use Telemedicine?
Essentially anyone can use telemedicine whether you’re a patient or provider. As mentioned above various forms and uses of telemedicine are available nationwide.
Many healthcare providers and insurance agencies are implementing tele-healthcare services and payment/reimbursement plans, making it more widely available and affordable.
Telehealth companies, like PlushCare, are also offering their services to patients who are looking for a more convenient healthcare process.
At PlushCare we accept health insurance from all major providers and we also see uninsured patients. Meaning you can use telehealth whether or not you’re insured.
What Can I Use Telehealth For?
Here are some of the top online prescriptions you can get from an online doctor:
What Conditions Can Online Doctors Treat?
There are many more conditions online doctors can treat, below we’ve provided a comprehensive list of primary and urgent care conditions that online doctors can treat.
Primary Care Conditions:
Urgent Care (non-emergency) Conditions:
Not every treatable condition is listed, so even if you don’t see yours, an online doctor likely can still help!
Can You Explain More on The Virtual Doctor Process?
Virtual doctor visits differ from platform to platform. While some people may hesitate to access medical help virtually, there is little concern when it comes to virtual doctor visits.
Many doctors operate their own practice and have chosen to extend their services virtually through the World Wide Web to provide access to a wider audience.
Most virtual doctor platforms will require you to register an account 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.
Read: Doctor App
For a video appointment you and the doctor will join to the video chat at your appointment time. How you access this video chat will vary depending on the site but typically you will log into your account and see an option to enter the appointment.
For phone appointments the doctor will you call you at your time, or you may dial into a phone conference with a provided number.
These virtual conversations are considered your actual “visit,” during which time you should feel free to speak to your doctor about what is bothering you and ask any questions you may have.
The average appointment at PlushCare lasts just 15 minutes. At the end of this consultation, your virtual doctor will provide a diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan for your condition. Any necessary medications may also be prescribed.
Telehealth is not appropriate for serious conditions that require immediate attention.
If you experience any life-threatening issues, call 911 or go to an emergency room immediately.
What Cannot Be Prescribed Online?
Virtual doctors legally cannot prescribe medications that require in-person examinations. These medications are known as controlled substances.
All controlled substances cannot be prescribed, including but not limited to:
- Medicinal marijuana
- Narcotics (morphine, oxycodone, Vicodin)
- Stimulant medications (Adderall, Ritalin)
- Antipsychotic medications (Seroquel, Zyprexa, Risperdol)
- Sedatives and sleep aids (Xanax, Ativan, Ambien)
How Is Safety with Prescriptions Ensured Online?
Keeping patients safe is a doctor’s responsibility, especially when incorrect dosage or improper use of any prescription drug can be devastating.
They should be able to fully explain the process and give you reasons for taking a certain medication over others. To protect the safety and wellbeing of a patient’s health, doctors both virtually and in an office, are required to take a variety of precautions for proper usage.
The general guidelines for precautions apply to prescriptions that are sent electronically. Electronic prescriptions can potentially improve the overall safety of prescriptions while maintaining efficiency. For virtual prescribing, most of the safety and precautions come from the actual examination, consultation, and diagnosis.
For written prescriptions, doctors must:
- Input the date, full name of the patient, and the patient’s address
- Indicate the age of children younger than 12, with medicine that can only be obtained via prescription
- Clearly specify the drug schedules clearly along with the strength and quantity of the medication or use their discretion to provide up to five days’ worth of the prescribed medication if the information isn’t available
Virtually doctors will have a digital prescription sent directly to a pharmacy.
Prescriptions can be sent to a retail pharmacy, mail-order pharmacy, or a pharmacy inside a doctor’s office.
The company that manages insurance coverage for any medication – in other words your pharmacist or pharmacy benefits manager —will check to make sure the medicine your doctor prescribed is covered under your insurance plan once they receive the prescription.
Your pharmacist will then tell you what medication you can have and how much you will have to pay for it. Based on your doctor’s recommendation, costs, and other personal factors, you can now decide what medication to use.
You can pick your medication up at your pharmacy once you make your decision. Some pharmacists will not know how much you’re supposed to pay until they charge you at the register.
Some doctors and pharmacists offer the option of having the medication mailed to your home.
Explore Your Telehealth Options for Care That’s Right for You
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 are informed on the fit that is right for you.
Every platform offers different physician and financing options and may 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.
Healthcare That Makes You Smile
- 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 and many more.
- 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. PlushCare also accepts uninsured patients for $99.
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
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
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 style based and will vary depending on your plan and people with a flexible spending or health spending account may be able to use it to cover services
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
Read More About Telehealth
Wall Street Journal. How Telemedicine is Transforming Healthcare. Accessed April 8, 2020 at https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-telemedicine-is-transforming-health-care-1466993402
Urgent Care Association of America. Medicare Telehealth Fact Sheet. Accessed April 8, 2020 at https://www.ucaoa.org/Portals/80/docs/Section%20Documents/2019_Medicare_Telehealth_Fact_Sheet.original.1563141047.pdf?ver=2019-07-28-195612-790
Barton Associates. How Do Telehealth Laws and Regulations Vary By State? Accessed April 8, 2020 at https://www.bartonassociates.com/blog/how-do-telehealth-laws-and-regulation-vary-by-state