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How Do Virtual Physician Visits Work?


WRITTEN BY: Craig Sturgill

UPDATED: MAY 23, 2022 | 2 MIN READ

While virtual physician visits have been around for some time, it wasn’t until the Covid-19 pandemic that they became popular. There will always be a need for in-person doctor visits, but there are many times when a video chat gets the job done. Here’s how virtual appointments work and what it is like to attend one.

What Are Virtual Physician Visits and How Do They Work?

A virtual physician visit is a doctor’s appointment completed online over video chat either from a computer or smartphone. During the appointment, the doctor sees you and you see the doctor as you talk. 

Online doctor appointments are used for:

  • Well checks that do not require vaccinations 
  • Follow-up appointments for an illness or injury
  • Medication renewal visits 
  • Chronic disease management
  • Help with common illnesses like a cold, the flu, and rashes
  • Reviewing test results

If you aren’t sure whether a virtual office visit is possible for your situation, call your doctor’s office and ask.

How do virtual doctor’s appointments work?

Virtual doctor’s appointments work the same as in-office visits. When you call for an appointment, simply ask if it can be virtual.

Once the appointment is set, you get a link via text or email to use for the appointment. Click the link about five minutes early, in case you need to register or fill out a questionnaire prior to starting. 

When it’s time for your appointment, don’t forget to make sure your camera is turned on. You can see your doctor once they join the video chat. It’s common to have a short wait, just like you would if you were in the doctor’s office. 

Are virtual doctor’s appointments available for mental health services?

Virtual physician visits are available for many mental health services. These appointments work the same way virtual visits with your primary care physician work. The only difference is you discuss mental health issues during your appointment instead of physical ones.

Virtual mental health visits are often helpful for people who are homebound or have anxiety around leaving the house. But they can be used for other problems as well. For example, if you need an emergency therapy session, having a quick virtual session with your therapist might be easier than scheduling an appointment in the future. This way, you get the care needed while you’re in crisis.

When can’t you make a virtual appointment with your doctor?

You can’t make a virtual doctor’s appointment if you need testing completed or your doctor needs to diagnose a new problem. However, it’s possible to have an online appointment first. Then, your doctor can make an in-person appointment if needed.

If you need vaccinations or a dose of medication via injection, you need to go to the office. Also, if you don’t have the equipment at home to check your vitals, your doctor might request you have an in-person visit. 

Are Virtual Physician Visits Covered By Your Health Insurance?

Many insurance companies cover virtual physician visits. However, it is always best to check the limitations of your specific policy. There are telehealth companies that offer discounted rates and/or payment plans to patients without insurance or those whose insurance doesn’t cover telehealth services.

Are virtual doctor’s appointments covered by Medicaid?

Whether or not telehealth visits are covered by Medicaid is up to your state, but most states do cover them. To see if you’re eligible, contact your local Medicaid office and ask if virtual physician’s visits are covered. Of course, you also need a Medicaid-approved doctor who offers telehealth services. 

Are virtual health visits covered by Medicare?

Most virtual health visits are covered by Medicare part B. Your doctor’s office will know which types of visits are covered and only set up a televisit if it’s approved.

Do private health insurers cover virtual physician appointments?

Most private insurance companies understand the effectiveness of virtual physician visits and do cover them. However, it is always best to check with your insurance company and get approval before the appointment. It’s possible your doctor’s office will do this for you if you ask.

Pros and Cons of Virtual Physician Visits

A quick call to your doctor’s office can help you determine whether you need an in-person or virtual appointment. However, before you schedule an appointment, it’s important to review the pros and cons.

Benefits of virtual physician visits

One of the biggest benefits of virtual visits is that it helps stop contagious illnesses. Other benefits include patient comfort and the ability for the doctor to see you in your home setting. Of course, it’s a huge plus that you don’t have to drive to the office and sit in a waiting room.

Disadvantages of virtual doctor appointments

Sometimes, the doctor needs to have you present to be able to accurately diagnose your problem. Cameras are great, but you can’t use them to take your vitals, look at your ears, or do a throat culture. 

Are virtual doctor’s appointments right for you?

If you are able to navigate the apps and have the equipment to do so, a virtual physician visit may be right for you. As long as the doctor feels they can properly care for your condition, it is something you should consider.

Virtual Doctor Visit FAQs

How do I prepare for a virtual doctor visit?

Other than making sure you can log into the appointment platform, you need to be sure to write down your symptoms and any questions you may have for the doctor. 

Are virtual doctor appointments cheaper?

In most situations, virtual doctor appointments are cheaper than what you would have to pay to go to the office for the same type of visit.

How do I find doctors who take virtual appointments?

The best way to find doctors who take virtual appointments is to talk with your primary care physician. If they do not offer this service, check with your insurance company.

What can be diagnosed in a virtual doctor appointment?

A virtual doctor’s appointment can diagnose the flu, a cold, rashes, and other common, simple conditions.

How reliable are virtual doctor visits?

As long as you are completely honest when discussing any symptoms with your doctor, a virtual doctor visit can be completely reliable. If the doctor feels they are unable to make an accurate diagnosis they will have you come to the office or go to a lab for further testing.

Are Virtual Physician Visits Here To Stay?

Virtual physician visits are becoming more popular, with good reason. Not only are they a cost-effective option, but virtual visits also tend to save both you and your doctor some time. When you’re ready to explore the option of virtual physician visits, talk to your doctor and find a health insurance company that covers telehealth services.

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