Getting Ready for Your First Online Doctor Visit? Here’s What to Expect
If you’ve never visited an online doctor before, you’re probably wondering what to expect. How long of wait time can you expect? What’s the cost? Is the quality of care on par with the service you typically receive at an in-person appointment? Will online doctors be able to offer the same range of services? Let’s take a look at what you can expect at your first online doctor’s visit, and answer some of the more common questions and concerns that people have.
Although services offered can vary from one telemedicine provider to another, in general, you can expect most online doctors will be able to help with common medical conditions, including:
- Cough, cold, and flu
- Headaches and migraines
- Nausea, stomach aches, and vomiting
- Skin rashes, psoriasis, and eczema
- Acne and bug bites
- Sinus infections and ear infections
- Asthma and respiratory conditions
- Seasonal allergies or food allergies
- Diarrhea and other stomach related issues
- Male-specific health concerns
- Female-specific health concerns
- Prescription drug refills
Additionally, many online doctors can offer a variety of mental health services to assist with common conditions, including:
- Panic disorders
When it comes to using an online doctor, a good rule of thumb to go by: if it’s an emergency that you would normally call an ambulance, you should still call an ambulance. That means if you sustained a serious injury that resulted in broken bones, head trauma, or a laceration that is actively bleeding, you’re going to want to get to the hospital as soon as you can. If the problem is less urgent, the kind of condition you would go to the doctor’s office or a neighborhood clinic for help, then it’s very likely an online doctor can handle it.
Once you’ve determined which online doctor you want to see, the registration process is often quite simple. Before being matched with an online doctor, typically you’ll be asked a few questions about your general health and the specific concern you want to consult with a doctor about, similar to the paperwork you complete when you arrive at a doctor’s office.
One of the main drawbacks to seeing a doctor in person is the length of time it can take to see a doctor. The average amount of time you have to wait to see a doctor is 24 days. To see a specialist, you’re looking at about 3 to 6 weeks’ worth of wait time. When you use a telemedicine service to see an online doctor, wait times are typically between 15 minutes and an hour. Gone are the days of having to schedule an appointment well in advance or sit around a waiting room.
Your Actual Visit
When it’s time to meet with an online doctor, make sure you’re someplace quiet where you can discuss your concerns openly. Depending on how you want to proceed, you’ll likely be speaking with your doctor on a video call over the internet or by phone. If you require a prescription, the doctor will need to see you on a video call to legally prescribe medication.
If you are speaking over a video call, you’ll want to make sure your internet connection is reliable. You’ll also want to make sure that your lighting is reliable in case you need to show the doctor any wounds, rashes, etc. If your connection is too unstable, your camera resolution is too low, or the lighting is too dark, the doctor may not be able to properly assist you.
Your appointment should proceed very much like an in-person doctor’s visit. They will ask you the types of questions you’re accustomed to about your condition and health. You may even be asked to take your temperature or your blood pressure if you’re able to. Expect the entire appointment to last between 15 and 20 minutes on average.
Online doctors are a cost-effective alternative to in-person doctor’s visits. The average visit to an emergency room in 2017 cost about $1,389. Urgent care visits tend to cost around $150. Online doctor services can often provide you with the same level of care as an in-person appointment for substantially less. Some services have monthly subscription fees that allow you to access doctors, while others will charge you on a case-by-case basis. Fees can range from about $15 to $20 per month for a subscription to about $59 to $79 for individual visits, depending on the service you use.
Even better, many telemedicine services accept insurance. Some online doctor services even partner with major employers to provide deep discounts for employees.
The Bottom Line
Research has shown that the care you can get from an online doctor is just as good as the care you can get from an in-person appointment. Remember, these are all licensed and skilled physicians. With an online doctor service, you’re getting a more convenient and affordable alternative to in-person doctor’s visits.