How to Get a Prescription Online

Published April 20th, 2020 by Bridget Reed
Fact Checked by
Chris Riley

Imagine that you’re at home sick, moving back and forth between your bathroom and bedroom because you can’t stop throwing up, but you’re also so exhausted that all you want to do is sleep. You have a fever, your nose is running, and all you can think about is how terrible you feel. You’ve been sick for several days and you know you need to see a doctor, but the thought of finding the strength to drive yourself to your doctor’s office seems impossible and overwhelming, and you find yourself wondering how to get a prescription online. Perhaps you work unconventional hours, live far away from your doctor’s office, or are a single parent struggling to find childcare for your little ones so that you can get to the doctor - you’re probably wondering how to get a prescription online, too. Fortunately, modern technology has evolved to allow us to consult with a doctor about our health conditions without ever setting foot in a doctor’s office or sitting in a waiting room, making it possible to get an online prescription and start feeling better faster.

What Is Telemedicine?

Telemedicine is a new way of offering healthcare. The practice refers to offering clinical services through electronic means, such as video conferencing on a smartphone or computer, for patients instead of requiring an in-person visit. When using telemedicine, a healthcare provider and patient use secure video and audio connections to see and speak to each other about the patient’s condition, much like you would in a doctor’s office. The only difference is that the doctor and the patient are not in the same room. Popular telemedicine specialties offered include, but are not limited to:

  • Telepsychiatry
  • Teleoncology
  • Teledermatology
  • Teleobstetrics
  • Teleophthalmology
  • Telerehabilitation

How Does Telemedicine Work?

Although it might seem like a brand new way of doing business in healthcare, the actual process surrounding telemedicine is similar to visiting your doctor in person. When using a telemedicine company, you can easily make an appointment right through an app on your smartphone or computer. When it’s time for your appointment, you’ll have a video call with a doctor or healthcare professional who will discuss your medical history, current medications, symptoms, and possible treatment options. If a prescription is needed, your doctor will then send a prescription to your local pharmacy, where you can pick up your medications in no time.

What Types of Conditions Can Be Diagnosed with Telemedicine?

While you might think that telemedicine could only diagnose a very limited number of common conditions, like a cold or seasonal allergies, telemedicine is capable of diagnosing a wide range of health conditions, including chronic health conditions and urgent care medical issues that are considered non-emergency. Telemedicine providers are able to diagnose, recommend treatment, and prescribe medication for the following chronic issues, among others:

  • Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) - daily medicine taken by people at risk for HIV to prevent HIV
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Asthma
  • Anxiety
  • Controlled or uncontrolled Type II diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Migraine
  • Acne
  • High blood pressure
  • Birth control
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Depression
  • Seizures
  • Hair loss
  • Back pain

Telemedicine providers are able to diagnose, recommend treatment, and prescribe medication for the following urgent care medical issues that are considered non-emergency, among others:

  • Allergies
  • Migraine
  • Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) - antiretroviral medicines taken after potentially being exposed to HIV to prevent infection
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Flu
  • Strep or sore throat
  • Male urethritis
  • Rash
  • Dental infection
  • Pink eye
  • Swimmer’s ear (external ear infection)
  • Headache
  • Tonsillitis
  • Gout
  • Hair loss
  • Sinus infection
  • Bronchitis
  • Cold
  • Yeast infection
  • Vaginitis
  • Cellulitis
  • Diarrhea
  • Ear pain
  • Nausea
  • Pneumonia
  • Vertigo

The services offered will vary slightly based on the telemedicine company selected; however, many conditions that do not require a physical examination to be treated are generally covered.

What Types of Conditions Cannot Be Diagnosed with Telemedicine?

While there are many conditions that can be diagnosed and treated via telemedicine, there are many conditions that cannot. Any condition that would require a physical examination or detailed testing to assess, such as a broken bone or acute illness with uncommon symptoms, cannot be treated via telemedicine. Telemedicine providers do not provide prescriptions for controlled substances, including narcotic/opioid pain medications, sleeping pills, fast-acting anxiety medications, stimulants, and more. If you have a condition that requires you to take a controlled substance, you will need to continue to see your healthcare professional in person.

What Are the Benefits of Telemedicine?

Telemedicine has tons of great benefits that make accessing quality medical care much easier. Some of the many benefits of telemedicine include:

  • Cost savings: Everyone wants to save money on their healthcare costs, and telemedicine offers a cost-effective way to access quality care while still saving money. Many telemedicine companies accept health insurance, while some may partner with certain insurers or employers to offer lower copays or fees. Although some telemedicine companies don’t work with insurance, if you’re one of 80 million Americans who are uninsured or underinsured, you may find that a telemedicine visit is still less expensive than an in-person copay with your doctor. The costs for telemedicine visits vary, but in general, a standard ten-minute consultation for common conditions like a cold or UTI will cost around 15 dollars, while longer consultations with specialists may cost 250 dollars. Companies that provide prescription services for birth control may offer free consultations.
  • Condition maintenance: People who take prescriptions regularly for a chronic health condition, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or acne, or those who need refills for other long-term medications that are considered low-risk, such as birth control pills, can benefit from the convenience of telemedicine. Telemedicine providers may offer you the option to choose a primary care physician who will consult with you during each virtual visit, which means that they can help with the management of your chronic condition and make lifestyle modification suggestions that may be able to assist in treatment.
  • Convenience: There’s no doubt about it - healthcare doesn’t get much more convenient than telemedicine. Telemedicine is an excellent option when you’re sick and don’t want to leave the couch, or if you have childcare issues, an unorthodox schedule, or you can’t take time off of work or away from school. In addition to being a great option when you’re sick, telemedicine also helps you save time and money through the management of chronic conditions that require long-term, low-risk medications. Instead of visiting your doctor every month for a refill, you’ll be able to schedule a quick consultation with your telemedicine provider and get back to your busy day.
  • Increased support: Unlike at a doctor’s office, some telemedicine companies will provide you with a care coordinator to help you navigate the ropes of using the service. Your care coordinator will be responsible for helping you submit information like your photo ID, updated health insurance information, preferred pharmacy, medical history, and more. This same person will also be responsible for following up with you after your consultation to see if your symptoms have improved, and may even be able to assist you in providing discount options for your medication if you are uninsured or underinsured.
  • Increased access: If you’ve ever had the experience of searching for a new doctor, you know how difficult it can be to find a provider who is accepting new patients, is part of your health insurance network and isn’t too far away. This challenge can be greatly magnified if you need to see a specialist or if you live in a rural or remote area where healthcare providers are scarce. Telemedicine providers have access to a wide variety of specialized care providers and can help match you with a board-certified physician that can address your concerns. Some companies have also partnered with local labs to offer more accessibility and easy access for affordable tests and lab work.

Are There Any Downsides to Telemedicine?

Although there are many benefits to telemedicine, there are also downsides associated with this type of healthcare service. Downsides associated with telemedicine include:

  • Care continuity: Although some telemedicine services have you select a primary care physician to consult with each time you have a medical issue, others do not or allow anonymous consultation. In the latter situations, continuity of care is not an option, and a patient will be seen by a different physician each time they use the service. This can be particularly problematic for patients with psychiatric issues because it prevents follow-up. 
  • Internet requirement: In order to use telemedicine, a strong internet connection is required for both the patient and the physician. It is not sufficient for patients or physicians to have an internet connection that allows for an audio connection only; a strong enough internet connection to support a video connection is critical for diagnosis and treatment. Patients who do not have reliable, strong access to the internet will not be able to utilize telemedicine services.
  • Rapport: There is something about an in-person visit with your medical professional that telemedicine simply cannot replicate. Although the convenience of telemedicine is positive, some doctors and patients feel that in-person visits provide the opportunity for deeper connection and understanding between the two parties.
  • Technology: Even though we live in an increasingly digital world, not everyone has the same understanding of how to use technology. Doctors and healthcare professionals must be trained in how to use telemedicine, while patients may struggle to set up and use the telemedicine technology as well. This is especially problematic for elderly patients who do not have access to smartphones or strong internet but who would likely benefit tremendously from the increased access and convenience telemedicine offers.

What Companies Offer Telemedicine?

There are many different companies offering telemedicine, including some insurance providers. The majority offer convenient apps that allow you to speak to your doctor right from your mobile device. Telemedicine providers include, but are not limited to:

  • HeyDoctor
  • PlushCare
  • Doctor on Demand
  • Teladoc
  • MeMD
  • Lemonaid
  • Maven Clinic (female only)
  • Roman (erectile dysfunction only)
  • Hims (male only)

Pricing and services provided will vary from company to company, so make sure you shop around and find the right telemedicine provider for your needs and budget.

Does My Insurance Cover Telemedicine Services?

Maybe. 26 states currently have laws that require insurance companies to provide reimbursement for healthcare providers for telehealth services, with ten additional states considering similar legislation. Some insurance companies in the other states do recognize the value and convenience offered by telemedicine and provide coverage, while others do not. Even if your insurance does not cover telemedicine services, you may be surprised to find that services can still be affordable and sometimes less than your copay for an in-person visit. Companies like HeyDoctor do not accept insurance but have fees starting as low as fifteen dollars for some services. You’ll be able to see the cost associated with each type of consultation upfront, so you’ll know exactly how much you’re paying.

How Do You Know When to Use Telemedicine?

One of the best things about telemedicine is its convenience - you have access to a healthcare professional at virtually any hour of the day and from anywhere. However, some times are more appropriate to use telemedicine than others. Consider using telemedicine in the following situations:

  • When your doctor’s office has closed for the day or weekend
  • When you do not have childcare and don’t want to take all of your kids to the doctor
  • When you want to hear your lab results without visiting your doctor’s office
  • When you cannot take time off of work for financial or other reasons
  • When you’re on vacation and don’t have access to your regular physician
  • When you’re sick but not sure if you should go to urgent care or wait to see your primary care doctor
  • When you need a prescription refill for a low-risk medication that is not a controlled substance
  • When you want to save money on healthcare costs

Telemedicine isn’t perfect, but for millions of Americans, it offers a convenient, affordable way to get access to healthcare professionals for the diagnosis, treatment, and management of common conditions. As telemedicine becomes more popular, there is likely to be an improvement in the technology and your local physicians may get in on the trend.

Published April 20th, 2020 by Bridget Reed
Fact Checked by
Chris Riley

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