telemedicine home coutertop with tissues

Online doctors and virtual visits can be convenient and powerful tools to connect patients and doctors — and right now, telemedicine could virtually save lives. As our medical system focuses all it’s energy on fighting coronavirus, consulting with a doctor from home, whether to refill a prescription or to get other medical advice, can keep the burden on the overall system reduced and keep you from visiting a busy office or hospital.

Telemedicine has been slow to catch on with most of us, but we predict that that’s about to change as our culture embraces more remote appointments and services than ever before.

As the need for telehealth ramps up, we connected with telemedicine digital service PlushCare, to unpack everything from what to expect on a call, when to schedule one and what a call can actually accomplish…

The Online Doctor Will See You Now: Telemedicine 101

An online doctor is exactly what it sounds like: a doctor that you can speak to via phone, computer or tablet. Online doctors are able to diagnose, treat and prescribe medication for a variety of conditions. They save time, stress and often cost the same amount as going to the doctor in-person. The goal of online doctors is to make medical care as easy and convenient as possible.

Some of the best online doctor’s services even create fee structures for uninsured patients similar to the amount an insured patient might pay in co-pays. A big relief for those in need of that type of service.

Online doctors often practice medicine both in-person and online. They may have a “day job” working at a hospital or smaller practice and choose to spend their evenings or weekends practicing medicine from the comfort of their homes. Telemedicine is great because it gives both patients and physicians the flexibility and convenience of speaking to each other from wherever they may be.

What Is The Difference Between Online Doctors
And Urgent Care Physicians?

As necessary as they are, conventional urgent care centers come with a wide range of potential problems. 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 in cities. This forces many potential patients to travel long distances just to see a doctor, presenting true accessibility problems for those who don’t have easy access to a car or public transportation.

Some in-person urgent care clinics are also not open seven days a week, which can make it difficult for some 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 full room can negatively affect your health, flooding your body with stress hormones that can hamper your immune system.

Full waiting rooms can also cause healthcare-associated infections. 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 in the clinic to get treated for a urinary tract infection. You may be asked to wait with other patients, some of whom have a cold. While you may get your UTI taken care of, the cold virus may have worked its way into your system, and you may actually walk out sicker than when you walked in.

Consumers are turning to online doctors for this very reason. Online physicians make it quick, simple and convenient to get care and eliminate many of the downsides of going to urgent care. There are no waiting rooms (and thus, no unwanted illnesses), no commutes and no limitation on hours of operation.

When Should I Use An Online Doctor?

An online doctor can address a variety of different illnesses. They are often able to treat acute conditions like sinus infections or the flu, but they are also able to treat chronic illnesses like thyroid issues, diabetes, high blood pressure and more.

Some of the most common things that most online physicians treat are:

Sinus Infection
Ear Infection
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

What Can An Online Doctor Prescribe?

Online doctors can usually write 90-day prescriptions for any medications you were previously prescribed. They can also provide a new prescription for any medications approved by the Drug Enforcement Administration. After your appointment, your doctor will send your prescription to the pharmacy immediately after the appointment is complete.

Most physicians can prescribe:

Allergy medication
Birth control refills
Diabetes medication
Thyroid medication
Blood pressure medication
Antidepressant refills

What About Online Doctor Prescriptions?

Online doctor prescriptions follow the same process as in-person doctor prescriptions. Improper use of prescription drugs or an incorrect dosage can be dangerous. Thankfully, doctors, both on and offline, have to take a variety of precautions for proper usage to ensure the safety and wellbeing of patients.

With remote prescribing, most of the safety and precautions come from the actual examination, consultation, and diagnosis. To maintain safety, the doctor will:

  • Determine all your current medical conditions, which includes any past drug history and current prescriptions and over-the-counter medications used
  • Identify what’s causing your current condition through their examination of your health
  • Make sure that your condition presents enough justification to actually prescribe medication
  • Rule out the possibility of any contraindications, which refer to any situation where the medication may actually cause harm to the patient, either based on personal health or interactions with other medication

Online doctors are prohibited from prescribing controlled substances. Controlled substances are medications that are regulated by the government. Examples of controlled substances include narcotics, medical marijuana, stimulants and sedatives.

How The Online Doctor Appointment Process Works

While specifics vary from doctor to doctor, most online doctor visits follow the same basic process:

Make an appointment | It starts with making an appointment, which can include registering or making an account.

one-on-one video chat or call | From there, your doctor contacts you for a one-on-one video chat or phone call. Video chat appointments not only help to make you more comfortable but also give your online doctor a more accurate understanding of your symptoms.

During your visit, you can talk to your doctor about what’s bothering you, ask any questions you might have, and essentially treat the experience as you would any other doctor’s visit. While some online doctor services have timed visits, most consultations should take about 10 to 15 minutes.

treatment + prescription | At the end of this consultation, your online doctor will diagnose your condition and provide you with a personalized treatment plan, which may include any necessary prescription medications. If you do require a prescription, your online doctor will send it electronically to a pharmacy of your choosing, where you can pick it up at your convenience.

What If I Need Lab Work Done?

Usually online doctors are able to order any lab work that they think you might need. If they deem lab work necessary they will order the appropriate tests and provide you with instructions on how to get tested. If you know the blood work you’d like to have done, sometimes you can order your labs without speaking to a doctor first. You’ll be able to get a variety of lab tests, including a STD screening, Basic Metabolic Panel, Women’s Health Panel, and Men’s Health Panel.

What Online Doctors Cannot Treat

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

Other limitations to online doctor care include:

Substance abuse
Suicidal ideation
Mental and emotional health evaluation
Hair loss
Controlled substance prescriptions

Talking To Your Online Doctor

Once an appointed is made, there are usually two options. The first is a video chat, which helps you better connect with your physician. Video chats also give your physician a better look at any visual symptoms you may be exhibiting, allowing them to make a more thorough diagnosis. It’s important to note that many states, like California, Texas, Florida and Georgia to name a few, require video appointments by law.

In other states, there may be the option of a phone visit, in which a phone call serves as your actual “visit”. During this time you can speak to your doctor about what is bothering you and ask any questions you may have.

Have you used an online doctor or do you plan to? What was your experience?
We would love to hear from you! Please let us know in the comments below.

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