What is Telehealth?

✔️Fact checked

Published: January 18, 2021

Telehealth is the delivery of healthcare services between a provider and patient who are physically distant from each other at the time of the service. Telehealth services can be delivered through different technologies, including streaming services, the internet, apps, video conferencing, and wireless and landline communications systems.

A wide range of services is available through telehealth, including identification and diagnosis of common illnesses, consultations about new symptoms and chronic disease management, triage for injuries or acute illness symptoms, and mental health therapy. Telehealth has grown in popularity over the past few years because it offers fast, easy access to clinical and non-clinical healthcare services. The COVID-19 pandemic has given a big boost to telehealth’s popularity, and insurance companies are treating these visits like they would an in-person visit at the provider’s office.

Anyone who needs healthcare services and prefers to stay home or can’t leave home should consider telehealth services to get essential care.

Benefits and Convenience of Telehealth Appointments

Telehealth is convenient to patients and providers. Most services allow patients to schedule appointments online. All it requires is a device with an internet connection, camera and audio. Physical location isn’t a constraint. A person could be at home, in their workplace or traveling and have a telehealth visit. People without easy access to transportation and those who live in rural areas with few healthcare providers will have better access to care through telehealth services. When care is convenient to receive, people are more likely to seek it. This means problems can be identified earlier and before more serious complications arise.

Many telehealth providers offer flexible schedules. For people who have trouble visiting a healthcare provider during typical 9:00 am to 5:00 pm business hours, an early morning, late evening or weekend appointment gives them improved access to the care they need. Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance companies offer coverage for telehealth services at the same level as in-person services. With no need to travel, patients may incur fewer expenses for a telehealth visit. There’s no need to take time off work or fill your gas tank with telehealth services.

Patients receive high-quality care during telehealth visits. In most states, providers are able to write prescriptions and electronically submit them to the patient’s pharmacy. States have lifted their restrictions on doing this, including for controlled substances, such as medications for pain control, ADHD and other conditions.

Telehealth also helps reduce the spread of COVID-19. Most doctor’s offices have small waiting areas, and spending time in a confined space with someone who is sick with COVID-19 is a risk factor for contracting the condition. Avoiding these situations considerably lowers a person’s risk of catching COVID-19. The fewer in-person events everyone goes to, the less spread there will be in the community. More telehealth visits could mean that the COVID-19 pandemic can be controlled in less time.

Reasons to Talk to the Doctor About Telehealth Options

Many people are surprised to learn that the physician they’ve seen for years is now offering a telehealth option. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way a lot of businesses, including healthcare providers, operate. Anyone who has trouble getting to the doctor’s office or for whom travel is uncomfortable or a hassle should ask their current provider about telehealth options. Healthcare providers don’t want you to miss or skip the care they need, and telehealth services may reduce a patient’s chances of canceling or not showing up. When possible, it’s best to stick with the same doctor. This continuity of care lowers the risk of missing something important or overlooking a person’s health history.

How to Find Telehealth Care Through Health Insurance

Almost every healthcare provider is now offering telehealth services. Even so, it’s important to make sure that the provider is part of the health insurance plan. Most health insurance companies offer a provider directory on their website. These directories make it possible for a patient to search by location, specialty, languages spoken by the provider or the type of illness or condition for which they need to be seen. Health insurance companies may also offer customer service chats or phone lines so that subscribers can find out if a particular service, provider or condition is covered under their telehealth benefits.

What On-Demand Telehealth Is and How It Works

On-demand telehealth is a same-day telehealth visit. An on-demand telehealth provider is like a walk-in urgent care or same-day physician center. The patient may have to see a provider they’ve never seen before, but the benefit is receiving care with a minimal wait time. To use on-demand telehealth, a patient just needs to visit a website or platform that offers this service. These platforms typically ask several questions, such as the condition or symptoms, insurance information and the patient’s demographics. Once the necessary information is collected, the patient is presented with a list of available appointment times.

How to Find On-Demand Telehealth Options

Health insurance companies may offer a list of on-demand telehealth services that are covered under their program. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid lists telehealth providers.

On-Demand Telehealth Providers

You have lots of options for telehealth providers, with many well-regarded platforms and websites dedicated to telehealth services. These on-demand telehealth providers have perfected the delivery of online health care, and they’re able to swiftly attend to each patient’s needs. Here are some of the on-demand telehealth providers, their features, and what they offer to patients.

Teladoc

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Teladoc was one of the first telehealth providers in the United States. It offers services to patients with and without health insurance. The physicians can send prescriptions to pharmacies and interpret laboratory results sent directly to them by the testing facility. Teladoc accepts both children and adults for new patient visits. Their services include

  • Skin conditions
  • Non-emergency illnesses and injuries
  • Mental health consultations
  • Sexual health consultations
  • Pediatric care
  • Chronic disease consultations

Teladoc’s prices range from $49 to $75 for everyday services and $90 to $229 for mental health services.


SteadyMD

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SteadyMD is a fully online doctor’s office. Its goal is to provide patients with a long-term healthcare relationship with the same doctor. The physicians see a limited number of patients each day, and they’re able to spend more time with each patient. Patients can contact their doctors after hours with follow-up questions, and they’ll receive a rapid response. Services provided by SteadyMD include

  • Urgent care for illnesses and injuries
  • Chronic condition management
  • Laboratory test interpretation
  • Screenings for chronic conditions and health problems
  • Stress management and lifestyle issues

Sesame

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Sesame is another on-demand healthcare company that offers direct-to-patient care with no middleman or insurance required. Patients pick the type of doctor and the clinician’s features they prefer, such as Spanish-speaking or female gender. All of the clinicians on Sesame are independent providers. They might work in their own medical practice or for a clinic as well as on Sesame on a part-time or full-time basis. Sesame offers nationwide telehealth appointments. The platform’s features:

  • Board-certified specialists
  • Dental, mental health, chronic condition, illness and injury care
  • Imaging services, including MRI and X-ray


Amwell

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Amwell was founded by two brothers who are physicians. The company’s goal is to improve access to care and remove barriers that get in the way of people receiving essential healthcare services. Their app is available on iOS and Android systems. The app matches patients with doctors in their state. Visits are $69 before health insurance. The features of Amwell include

  • Widely-acclaimed mental health therapy services
  • Nutrition counseling and meal planning
  • 24/7 access to care
  • Prescriptions electronically sent to the pharmacy of the patient’s choice

MDlive

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MDLive is one of the earliest telehealth providers. It’s been around since 2009. It partners with health systems and independent providers across the United States. Patients can access family medicine doctors, therapists and board-certified specialists. The doctors treat allergies, acute illnesses, chronic conditions and mental health issues. MDLive offers:

  • 24/7 telehealth appointments
  • Phone and video call visits
  • Initial consultations and ongoing mental health counseling
  • Urgent care services

Fees begin at $75 for specialty services before insurance benefits are applied. Initial psychiatric consultations are $284 before insurance.


Doctor on Demand

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Doctor on Demand allows patients to save a physician to their favorites list, which makes it easier to choose the same provider for future visits. Video calls on Doctor on Demand are covered under Medicare’s Part B service plan. Doctor on Demand provides:

  • Board-certified lactation consultants for new moms
  • Management of chronic health conditions
  • Urgent care for illnesses and injuries
  • Preventive health services
  • 24/7 access to care

Fees begin at $75 for a 15-minute consultation for medical services and $299 for an initial 45-minute mental health consultation.


PlushCare

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PlushCare is a telehealth network service. It charges a monthly membership fee of $15. Each visit is $99 or the co-pay stated by the patient’s health insurance company. It’s in network with a lot of regional and national health insurance companies. PlushCare offers same-day video visits through its website or app. Plushcare’s features include

  • Primary and urgent care
  • Mental health treatment
  • New prescriptions and refills
  • Ongoing care for chronic health conditions
  • Board-certified specialists

HealthTap

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HealthTap offers two categories of online telehealth services. The first is a free symptom checking tool that anybody can access any time. It also allows people to ask free anonymous medical questions and get an answer within one day. Its fee-based services require a $10 monthly membership. Visits are billed to insurance. HealthTap states that it has 90,000 participating providers across the United States. Healthtap features:

  • Answers to text messages
  • Video visits
  • New and refilled prescriptions
  • 24/7 access to care on any device
  • Orders for lab tests and referrals to specialists

Getting healthcare has never been easier or more convenient thanks to telehealth services. You can use a service that accepts your insurance or find one that accepts new patients without health insurance. Access to a medical home for care by the same provider increases the satisfaction of telehealth patients. And your ability to get care any time of the day or night provides peace of mind, often at an affordable price.