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What to Expect from an Online Doctor Visit?

Have you ever considered an online doctor visit? It’s a relatively new type of healthcare service that has gained popularity in recent years. Patients can talk with a doctor online, through one of multiple communication methods, and have many common conditions diagnosed and treated. For many people, it’s proving to be a valuable addition to their healthcare toolbox, providing numerous benefits and advantages over a traditional doctor’s office visit. 

Still, many people are new to the world of online doctors and telemedicine. Some people may be hesitant to try an online doctor visit because they do not know what to expect—how to have an online appointment, what conditions can be treated, what services are offered, and what kind of follow-up there may be. This can be further exacerbated if the patient is not entirely comfortable with technology like video conferencing, smartphones, and computer downloads. 

By addressing some of these questions and concerns, potential patients can learn what to expect from an online doctor visit before ever engaging in one. This can greatly increase comfort levels among patients and make for a more productive use of online doctor services. That’s the ultimate goal, as an online doctor visit can be very useful for managing and improving a person’s health. So, let’s get started and dig into the details of what to expect from an online doctor visit!

The Basics of Telemedicine Services

First, it’s useful to look at some of the basic aspects of telemedicine services, to establish a framework as to what they are and how they work. Simply put, telemedicine is a concept where a patient and doctor connect remotely in order to diagnose and treat patient conditions, manage health issues, and so on. This can be accomplished in several ways but is characterized by the patient and doctor not being in the same physical location. Naturally, the expansion and affordability of networked technology has made telemedicine more commonplace and accessible in recent years.

Typically, most telemedicine services offer what amounts to a virtual or online doctor visit—a two-way videoconference between the patient and the doctor for a set period of time.  Appointments can be scheduled in advance or may be available on-demand (with a short waiting period) or both, depending on the provider. The conditions that may be treated or other services available from an online doctor visit will vary from provider to provider. Most often, they consist of managing existing health conditions or diagnosing and treating various common conditions that are not immediately life-threatening. An online doctor visit is no substitute for visiting a doctor or hospital for emergency medical services. 

Services Available from an Online Doctor Visit

Most telehealth providers will enumerate a list of the conditions they treat and services they offer somewhere on their website or app. While this list will vary from company to company, there are some commonalities that derive from the nature of an online doctor visit and therefore define much of the scope of what they can diagnose and treat. 

In terms of services, most quality providers offer:

  • Multiple methods or options for communication/to have an online doctor visit.
  • Writing prescriptions for treatments.
  • Filling prescriptions at an affiliated pharmacy for shipment to patients.
  • Sick notes for employers.
  • Safe, secure, and encrypted data transfer/records/communications.
  • Board-certified licensed doctors.
  • Online help and customer service to resolve any technical, billing, or related issues.

From the standpoint of conditions, diagnoses, and treatments, the scope and range greatly depend on the expertise of the doctors on staff, in addition to the aforementioned limitations based on the nature of the telehealth provider. For example, one of the big divisions among providers is that some offer mental health therapy/treatments, whereas others don’t. This is largely due to the different regulatory and licensing boards in many states in the US. The same can be true of other conditions and services, so it’s best to check with your chosen provider to see what they offer before scheduling an online doctor visit. Most commonly, telemedicine firms offer most of the following:

  • Skin conditions, rashes, acne, pimples, etc.
  • Cold sores
  • Athlete’s foot
  • Asthma
  • Erectile dysfunction/sexual health issues
  • Baldness and hair loss
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Smoking cessation
  • Cholesterol and blood pressure issues
  • Colds, flu, and other similar issues
  • Insect bites and stings
  • Mental health conditions

Options for an Online Doctor Visit

When choosing a telehealth provider, it’s useful to research the options that they provide for communication or the format of an online doctor visit. The vast majority offer some kind of two-way videoconferencing from a patient’s smartphone, tablet, or computer. This usually involves the downloading of some proprietary communications software and a compatible device with a built-in camera and a working Internet connection. While this is fairly standard for most people today, especially the younger generations, older patients may not be entirely comfortable with this technology-driven option.

Some of the more accommodating telehealth firms offer additional communication options for an online doctor visit. These may include email, text-based, or live chat-based services, as well as audio chat or phone-based services. Some communication methods may be more appropriate for certain tasks or types of online doctor visits than others. For example, renewing a prescription or seeking a prescription for a diagnosed and managed condition is something that can easily be done over text or email. By contrast, diagnosing and treating a skin condition would be best served by a videoconference so that the doctor could visually assess the condition.

These various options should be taken into consideration when planning an online doctor visit, and finding a provider that offers more options is often ideal—this gives you more tools in your toolbox to manage your health effectively, easily, and affordably with a telemedicine firm.

What to Expect During an Online Doctor Visit

Once you’ve chosen a telehealth provider, it’s almost time for your online doctor visit! Before you can schedule an appointment or talk to a doctor, you usually need to create an account. This requires an email address and is entirely free at any reputable provider. Once your account is set up, you will be able to add information about your medical history, set up a personal profile, and provide payment information. These are all things that you should do in advance of your online doctor’s visit and take just minutes to complete. Once it’s done and set up, it will be saved to your account, so you won’t need to fill out even digital forms like that at any future appointment.

Next, you’ll need to decide if you want to schedule an appointment in advance for a later time, or right away. Some services only offer on-demand appointments, while others may only offer scheduled appointments. Still others offer both services. Depending on the offerings at your chosen provider, you can either enter a queue for an on-demand appointment (be mindful of the hours of operation during which these are available) or schedule an online doctor visit appointment for some time in the future. Often, this is as early as the next business day, though it can be planned further in advance as well.

When it comes time for the actual appointment, services usually either email or text you a link for your appointment, typically in advance. Others may require you to log in to their site and use a portal there a few minutes prior to your appointment. The first time you have an online doctor visit, you may need to download proprietary video conferencing software, audio chat software, or live text chat software. The instructions for doing so are provided, as well as setup instructions, tests, and so on, so that you can be fully comfortable and ensure everything is working before your actual appointment time.

In the online doctor visit, then, you’ll be connected to a licensed, board-certified medical doctor for a set period of time. Obviously, the experience will be somewhat different if you are communicating via live text chat or phone as opposed to the more common video conferencing. Either way, however, two-way conversations will be the main body of the appointment. The doctor will talk through your history, health concerns, conditions or complaints, and provide treatment options and follow-up information consistent with the services they offer. This can be completed entirely from your home or office, on your chosen device. Follow-up can include things like giving a prescription right away and sending it to their affiliated pharmacy. This saves patients a lot of time and effort compared to a regular doctor’s visit. 

Some firms may have you schedule a follow-up as part of an appointment, whereas others leave that entirely up to you. A brief survey or feedback on your experience may also be part of the end of the online doctor visit. Payment will be deducted from your account or charged to your chosen payment method, consistent with the services provided. 

Putting Online Doctor Visits in Context for Better Health

It’s worth noting that online doctor visits aren’t ideal for every condition or health concern. As mentioned earlier, emergency or life-threatening conditions should see patients visit a hospital. Online doctor visits are more akin to clinic visits; they are meant to help manage existing or minor conditions, diagnose those conditions, and provide treatment services. They can’t replicate the experience of lab testing, physical examination, imaging studies, and so on. Therefore, they aren’t ideal for every illness or circumstance, but they can save patients a lot of time, effort, and money when dealing with the conditions they do treat. 

It’s important to remember to keep online doctor visits and telehealth providers in the right context, with those limitations in mind, in order to most effectively use them for better healthcare and better health, as well as to realize all of the potential benefits they offer over traditional doctor visits.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I get a prescription from an online doctor visit?

Almost all reputable providers offering online doctor visits in the US will have the ability to write prescriptions. Not all firms have affiliated pharmacies to fill those prescriptions, though some do. Prescriptions can easily be discussed as part of your online doctor visit, whether existing or as a treatment for a new condition diagnosed during that visit.  The specifics of the prescription process should be discussed with a doctor from your chosen telehealth provider, or you can refer to the documentation and information they provide on their site or app to learn more.

What conditions are online doctor visits suitable for treating?

Online doctor visits are ideal for treating and managing conditions that don’t require an in-person examination, lab testing, or imaging studies—or that do but have already been diagnosed and are well-managed. This is largely due to logic and medical ethics codes that simply won’t allow a doctor to diagnose and treat a condition unless they can make a satisfactory assessment of the patient and reasonably believe they have that condition. Self-reported data is sufficient in some cases, such as with erectile dysfunction, just as it would be with an in-person doctor visit. But no online doctor visit will be suitable to diagnose or treat cancer or a broken bone, for example. 

Does an online doctor visit connect me with an actual doctor?

Yes.  All the medical staff with whom patients connect as part of an online doctor visit must be practicing, licensed, board-certified medical doctors. Though nurses and administrative staff may be involved in the overall visit and treatment process, just like with a traditional in-office doctor visit, your appointment will take place with an actual doctor. In fact, you tend to get more face time and discussion time with an online doctor visit than with a traditional office visit, which is one of the many reasons why so many people are flocking to telemedicine today. 

Try Telegra MD for Your Next Online Doctor Visit!

Hopefully, you now know a bit more about what to expect when you have an online doctor visit for the first time. If you’re interested and think telehealth might be useful for you, then we encourage you to sign up and schedule an appointment at Telegra MD.

Telegra MD offers comprehensive service in all 50 states, with text, audio, and video communication options.  Staffed by board-certified doctors with excellent credentials, patients can get diagnosed and treated for a range of health issues, remotely, for a low flat rate. Appointments are just $49—and you don’t need to be around other sick people, wait for hours in a tiny, cold office, or schedule months in advance, either!