Visiting a Doctor Online

Health Writer

In the past few weeks, we have discussed online therapy and the pros and cons of ordering medication online. This week, we will talk about online doctor's visits, for treating many different conditions, including ADHD.

What Happens During an Online Doctor's Visit

A number of online medical clinics are popping up, for example, KoolDocs and HealthCareMagic. (This is not an endorsement of either, these are provided as examples.) Using these types of services, patients are able to "visit" with a doctor from their own homes, without spending time and gas traveling to the office. Long waits in the doctor's office are gone, with the ability to speak with a doctor immediately, or wait comfortably at home for a doctor to call you back.

A doctor's visit can be a phone call, instant messaging or through email, depending on the services offered. Normally, online consultations are less expensive than in-person office visits and can occur anytime, day or night.

In addition to online medical clinics, you can check with your doctor to find out what, if any, digital services he or she may be offering. Some offices are providing email consultations at a lower cost than office visits for existing patients. These types of services help doctors monitor an ongoing or chronic condition, without the patient coming in to the office each week or month.

What Are the Limitations to Online Care?

Online, or digital, medical visits are best suited for treating simple, mild or acute conditions. Although there are many conditions that can be treated online, some examples are:

  • Colds
  • Flu
  • Bronchitis
  • Back Pain (Acute, not chronic)
  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Urinary Infections
  • Sinus Problems

Medical problems that may signal an emergency or may have multiple causes, such as abdominal pain, are not a good candidate for online care.

In addition, states may have enacted laws to protect patients. Some state medical boards require a doctor to have an initial in-person consultation before any medication is prescribed.

Some doctors offer this service only to existing patients.

You will need to check with your doctor and state medical board for laws or policies covering this type of service.

What About Prescriptions?

In some cases, doctors can prescribe medication after speaking with you. They will need to call your pharmacy with the prescription information. Some medications, however, must have a written prescription. These medications are not normally prescribed via online or digital medical consultations. KoolDocs has a listing on their website of medications they will not prescribe.

Does Insurance Cover Online Doctor's Visits?

A few insurance companies have begun covering online medical consultations. Aetna and Cigna both pay for these services. Some insurance companies not only pay for the service but operate their own online medical services to help members receive medical care.

As these types of services become more popular, more and more insurance companies will follow suit and pay for online doctor's visits. Check with your insurance company to find out their policies.

Some online medical services require you to pay at the time services are rendered. You may need to find out how to submit this information to your insurance company to get reimbursed or credited toward your deductible. Because insurance companies and policies differ immensely, find out this information before seeking online medical help.


"Visiting Your Doctor Online is a Virtual Reality", 2009, Oct 27, Megan Johnson, US News and World Report

"The Doctor Will Text You Now", 2009, July 9, Anne Wilde Matthews, The Wall Street Journal