How to decide if an online doctor is right for you

Reviewed by:
Angela DiLaura, NP
Clinical Informatics and Quality Manager
Last updated on September 7, 2022

For many, online doctor appointments are now the norm. More people are turning to virtual physicians as a convenient and affordable alternative to traditional in-office visits. Is an online doctor visit right for you?

Is it covered? Maybe. Several major health insurers include telemedicine in their covered services. They even encourage policy members to use this option if it fits their situation.

In some cases, seeing a doctor in person may still make the most sense. So which is right for you? Before deciding whether to visit an online doctor or to hoof it to your neighborhood clinic, here are a few aspects you should first understand. 

What is an online doctor?

An online doctor may sound complicated, but in most cases, they are easy to meet with if you use the right platform. It is simply a regular physician, with regular credentials, who offers services remotely through video visits. 

An online doctor doesn’t have any special training – nor do they have any less training, either. Rather, the physician has an MD from an accredited medical school with a follow-up residency. Often they work in a medical setting as well as an online one, though some only work remotely.

Just like a regular office visit

Online doctors are very similar to physicians in how they approach a visit. Once you connect, they will take a health history and get information on what’s wrong. Whether you’re doing a routine check-in about a chronic condition or are feeling sick, they will ask questions.

These may cover your symptoms, your family history, your allergies and medications, and more. They may also ask about your work and family situation, where relevant.

If necessary and the doctor recommends a medication, your doctor can give you an online prescription. They can also recommend a specialist if needed. 

If you’re simply sick and need a few days to recover, they can write you an excuse note. An online doctor's note is just as valid as one from your physician’s office, don’t worry.

That said, there are occasions when an online doctor simply won’t do. Let’s take a look at when you should take the virtual path, and when you need to go into an office in-person. 

When to see a doctor virtually

If you need medical care and can get it from home, you should. It helps keep traffic down in hospitals and clinics, which is great. Even with masking rules, cases of communicable disease – COVID-19 and otherwise – still spread easily during cold and flu season.

There are many scenarios in which a video visit will do the trick. That includes when, as discussed, you simply need a doctor's note or prescription.

Other compelling reasons to see an online doctor? You might want to avoid the stigma surrounding your condition. You also have the option to take your own blood pressure and heart rate from home and don’t need to go in. Perhaps you just need some follow-up care and don’t require hands-on help.

After addressing your condition and health history, your doctor may offer a diagnosis. Or they may refer you to someone else, either virtually or in-person.

Possibly they may tell you they need to do some research and get back to you before moving forward. These are all normal outcomes of any online doctor visit.

After all, if you can stay home, or see a primary care doctor on your lunch break, why wouldn’t you? It saves you time, money, and exertion. That’s a win-win-win. Sometimes, though, you really do have to see a doctor in-person.

When to see a physician in-person

If you are experiencing unusual pain, it’s probably smart to see a doctor in-person. Similarly, if there is an emergency, you need to go to an ER right away. In a true crisis, call 911 and don’t bother trying to arrange online care of any kind.

Even without an emergency, though, it can make sense to go in and see your primary care doctor. The same is true if you need your doctor to feel something with their hands.

Other reasons to visit a doctor in-person? You need lab work or imaging, or consultation with multiple providers. In those cases, you may want to skip the virtual queue and set up a physical appointment.

How to make an online doctor appointment

If you are ready to schedule an online doctor appointment, there are a few steps to take. First, log into your online health portal. This might be through your insurance carrier, your doctor’s office, or an online healthcare portal like HealthTap.

Once there, the system will then find you the best provider to get you the care you need. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re local; in some cases, they may be across the country.

This is one of the best benefits of online doctor appointments – the ability to match with physicians from anywhere. They will maintain the same levels of privacy that you’d find at a clinic. Plus, they compile your information in one place so you can always access it.

Need help from trusted physicians, from home, for less money than a regular doctor costs? HealthTap is here to help, so get in touch today.

HealthTap Editors

HealthTap Editors

HealthTap articles are reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Visit to learn more and meet some of the medical editorial board members behind our blog. The information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. HealthTap is a virtual-first, affordable urgent- and primary-care clinic, providing top-quality physician care nationwide to Americans with or without insurance. Our proprietary, easy-to-use, and innovative apps and electronic medical record apply Silicon Valley standards to effectively engage consumers and doctors online to increase the equity, accessibility, and efficiency of ongoing medical care for consumers, providers, employers, and payers. In addition, with HealthTap, businesses can offer virtual primary care to employees for less than the cost of free coffee. HealthTap's US-based board-certified physicians are available throughout North America. For more information, visit

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