It’s Saturday night and you’re coming down with something: itchy throat, watery eyes, pounding head, aching stomach. Do you push through the pain until Monday, when you can see your primary care physician? Or do you pick up your phone and, in a matter of a few taps, explain your symptoms to an online doc who can immediately advise you on the best course of treatment?
Thanks to the rise of telemedicine — an umbrella term that covers all the ways you can receive medical care via text, online chat, phone and video — you can choose the second option. Online doctors can diagnose and treat a range of medical conditions, including allergies, cold and flu, fevers, asthma, bronchitis, ear infections and so much more.
You shouldn’t use these services as a replacement for your primary care doctor (with the exception of the hybrid models mentioned at the end of this article), but telemedicine can definitely prove helpful when you’re on your third box of tissues and your medicine cabinet isn’t helping.
You also shouldn’t use telehealth services when you experience a true emergency or sustain an injury that needs immediate attention, like a broken bone. All that said, here are 10 ways to talk to a doctor online.
Apps and websites
Online-only healthcare systems put doctors and nurses within arm’s reach at all times. While you can’t rely on these services for things like x-rays and surgery, you can lean on them when you need a quick diagnosis for the flu or other common conditions.
Available 24/7, doctors on Amwell can diagnose and treat an impressive number of health conditions, and that includes prescribing medication and sending it to your preferred pharmacy. Amwell also offers urgent care online. Without insurance, the baseline cost for a visit is $69.
Teladoc can diagnose and treat just about any general medical condition you can think of, and offers specialist services for mental health, dermatology, sexual health and tobacco cessation. Teladoc can also prescribe medications if necessary. Unlike some other services, Teladoc doesn’t put a time cap on your visit — you can talk to your doc as long as you like, a refreshing feeling in an industry that typically tries to cycle patients in and out as fast as possible. The cost of a Teladoc visit varies, depending on your plan and insurance. Learn more on its FAQ page.
Doctor On Demand
Doctor On Demand breaks its services down into four main categories: urgent care, behavioral health, preventative health and chronic care, with the preventative health category being relatively unique. For instance, most online-only health services don’t offer preventative lab screening services like Doctor On Demand. The baseline cost for a visit at Doctor On Demand without insurance is $75.
A bit different than the rest of the services on this list, Tyto is an at-home medical exam kit that allows you to check for common conditions by sending high-quality video and audio to a doctor on the other end of the app. Your doctor hears your heart and lungs and sees your ears, throat and skin to diagnose conditions like ear infections, cold, flu, allergies and rashes.
MDLive can help with common medical conditions, as well as mental health and dermatological conditions. If you receive a diagnosis, MDLive can prescribe medication and send it to your preferred pharmacy. Via the MDLive app, you can access care at any time.
Without insurance, the baseline cost for a visit is $75. Depending on your insurance plan, MDLive may not cost anything for you.
SteadyMD takes a different approach than most telehealth companies by breaking its services down by lifestyle, such as SteadyMD for Paleo, SteadyMD for Runners and SteadyMD for Weightlifters. Like other telemedicine apps, you can talk to your SteadyMD doctor at any time through text, phone or video chat.
If you want to find out more about your symptoms, but not necessarily talk to a doctor (although you have the option to), try K Health. This app aggregates data from billions of users — don’t worry, it’s secure — and shows you how doctors have previously treated patients with symptoms similar to yours. This can help in situations when you’re not quite sure what to do, for instance, if you don’t know whether you have a cold or are experiencing allergies.
If you do want to speak to a doctor, K Health’s affiliated physicians can diagnose, prescribe medications, order lab tests and refer you to a specialist or urgent care near you. The app itself is free, but you’ll need to pay a small fee (which differs depending on insurance) to chat with a doctor.
All of the above telehealth services offer their own 24/7 care numbers, as do most insurance companies. You can find your insurance company’s hotline by searching “[insurance company] nurse hotline” on the web. Usually, all you need to do is input your geographic location and plan type, and then you can call.
But if you’re uninsured, you may be wondering where to turn if you just need a quick question answered over the phone. Free helpline options for the uninsured population are limited, but you do have a few.
Many states offer free nurses on-call hotlines, as do individual hospitals. To find them, it’s usually a matter of a quick Google search for “free nurse hotline [state or hospital].”
You can also visit the National Institutes of Health hotline page to find phone numbers for specific health conditions, including allergies, heart health, mental health and more.
Hybrid telehealth businesses combine in-person medical care and online services for a seamless system. These models can replace traditional primary care with an option that gives you easier access to your doctor, longer visits and deeper insights about your health.
With One Medical, you can book appointments, renew prescriptions, access medical records and get health reminders all within the One Medical app. If you’re not feeling an in-person visit, you can simply message your doctor or have a FaceTime-esque appointment through their video chat software. One Medical has a yearly membership cost of $199, but it also offers options for people who can’t afford that fee.
At this “doctor’s office of the future,” Forward Health a very thorough baseline visit followed by unlimited in-person visits and online chats with your provider. A membership at Forward costs $149 per month, and you don’t need insurance to be a member, but it’s highly recommended just in case you have an emergency or you need to see a specialist.
For $150 or $250 per month depending on your plan, Parsley Health offers an impressive array of holistic health services. The in-person visits are limited, but you do get unlimited access to your provider via messaging.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.