What Are Telehealth Services and How Do They Work?
Online doctor services embrace technology by using web-based platforms that let patients talk to a doctor online, get a diagnosis, and receive treatment for a wide variety of medical conditions (more on that below). There are a few ways to get medical services via an online doctor, including text messaging, phone consultations, video chat, and submitting online requests.
Many services will let you send in a message directly to a doctor via the online platform listing your symptoms, current medical condition, or medical questions. Your messages are then reviewed by a doctor and responded to accordingly. This is the most efficient method of communication if you’re seeking answers to a particular question or if you need to refill a medication prescription.
Alternatively, if you need to interact with the doctor in real-time, most services offer phone or video chat services as well. Here’s how that works:
Schedule an appointment for the near future or send in a request for an immediate appointment.
If you request an immediate appointment, then you’ll be put on the waiting list and seen by the next available doctor.
If you schedule an appointment for the near future, most telehealth services will allow you to pick the doctor you want to see. This is a great feature as it will allow you to select a doctor you may already be familiar with and are more comfortable with.
When you see the doctor, they’ll discuss your symptoms or medical condition in depth. You’ll be asked clarifying questions such as medical history or family history, lifestyle habits, diet, and more—anything that’s relevant to your treatment.
The doctor will diagnose your medical condition and recommend a treatment plan suited for your condition.
If you require any medication, the doctor will send the prescription directly to the pharmacy closest to you for pick-up. Most telemedicine services will provide same-day pick-up for medications.
Another highlight of telehealth services is that their platforms often provide you with one easy-to-access place where you can find your medical history and treatment history.
What Areas of Expertise Do Telehealth Services Offer?
Online healthcare services treat a wide array of non-emergency medical conditions. The list ranges from less serious conditions like the common cold, the flu, or an eye infection to more complicated or chronic medical conditions like type 2 diabetes, asthma, and sexually transmitted diseases. You can also find psychiatric and psychological treatment for mental health issues like depression, panic attacks, and anxiety.
Here’s a short selection of some medical conditions and services that are available through online doctor services:
It is important to clarify that you should not use online doctors for emergency medical care. Highly urgent conditions or situations—including concussions, internal or external bleeding, serious burns, heart attack, major psychiatric episodes, or suicidal/homicidal ideation—should be dealt with by heading directly to the emergency room, going to an urgent care unit, or dialing 911 for immediate emergency assistance.
How Much Do Telehealth Services Cost?
Generally speaking there are two types of pricing models for online doctor appointments and medical services: monthly plans/memberships or paying per-visit.
Subscription plans and memberships
Some telehealth services offer monthly or annual subscription plans. If you tend to visit the doctor more than once a month, have a chronic condition that needs regular medical attention, or frequently require medications, then a subscription plan will be the more cost-effective option for you. Online medical service memberships often give you unlimited access to all of the medical services provided for a single flat rate. This is also a good option if you tend to ask a higher number of questions, have frequent medical concerns, or like to remain in closer contact with your doctor.
Membership plans for online doctors can range from $19-$100 per month. You can also sign up for annual plans ranging from $50-$1,200, depending on the services you require and number of people you want to include in the plan.
Many online medical services let you pay on a per-visit basis instead of subscribing to a monthly payment. If you don't visit the doctor very often, are generally healthy, or don't have any major medical conditions, this might be a better option than paying for a full membership (though not always). Depending on how much the per-visit fee is, you may be able to find monthly or annual subscriptions that are actually cheaper.
Prices per visit will also vary depending on the type of doctor’s appointment you need. For example, every day or urgent care appointments will generally cost you less than a mental health session. Prices range from $55 per visit up to $299.
It's also worth noting that many online doctor services work with your health insurance or employee health plan. If that's the case, the cost of visits, services, and sometimes even membership can be covered, making telehealth services an even more attractive option.
What Are the Advantages of Choosing an Online Doctor?
Online medical services have been growing in popularity even after the peak of the pandemic. In fact, one study found that the current number of US physicians working exclusively through telehealth services has tripled compared to pre-pandemic. Here are a few of the biggest benefits of using telehealth platforms over the more traditional doctor’s visit:
You can book an appointment whenever you need one, see the doctor, and get treatment all from the comfort of your own home, your office, or wherever you are.
You don’t have to sit and wait in a doctor’s office or waiting room, wait for an appointment slot to open up, or wait for results. Everything is done on your schedule, and your medical e-card is automatically updated after each visit.
Most telehealth services work with a network of doctors, so someone is available 24/7 to help. Some platforms also offer unlimited messaging, so you can chat with a doctor and ask questions even after you've received a diagnosis.
Finally, telehealth services come at a fraction of what you’ll pay for urgent care or emergency room treatments. In fact, many of these services are cheaper than your average co-pay with your health insurance. With flat monthly subscriptions, you get unlimited access to medical professionals and services whenever you want.
Telehealth Services: The Wave of the Future
Telehealth services are providing Americans with an easier, faster, and more convenient way to get the medical treatment they need. And with affordable pricing plans, 24/7 availability, and large networks of compassionate, board-certified, and professional doctors, telehealth is a viable alternative to the traditional approach to medical services.