5 Telemedicine Apps Everyone Should Know (Just in Case)

Here's how to use your smartphone to get top medical care and information any time, any place.

close up of man holding smartphonePeopleImages/Getty ImagesYou’re sick, you’re sniffling, and you’re not sure if it’s something minor (like the common cold), major (like the flu), or—in the age of coronavirus—something far worse. Whatever the reason, you’re likely wondering if you need to upend your life to get to the doctor. You may not need to. Thanks to all the telehealth apps that are revolutionizing medical care, you can use telemedicine to get the help you need.

Now, a health-care provider can use an app to scope out your sniffles via video chat, prescribe medicine, and track symptoms from afar. It’s fast, easy, and reliable, which means you can spend more time recovering. (Of course, for anything that needs more than that—especially if you’ve got one of these 12 coronavirus symptoms everyone should watch for—you should still talk to a doc in person.)

Remote-care apps allow you to consult a provider for essentially the same cost as an in-office visit, whether you’re a caregiver in the suburbs, a busy patient in a city, or someone who’s simply uncomfortable leaving home during the pandemic. Indeed, research suggests the coronavirus has a lot to do with the sudden embrace of telehealth apps. In the early days of the pandemic, telemedicine visits jumped from about 103 visits daily to around 802 per day, according to a study published in May 2020, in Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. 

Here’s how the latest apps may change your health-care future.

YOU WANT: To Talk to a Doc Right Now
TRY: Doctor on Demand

It’s 2:45 in the morning. You wake up because your four-year-old has a nagging cough and her forehead is burning up. You’re exhausted and worried, and you’re not sure whether to wait and see if she gets better or to head to the emergency room pronto.

Thankfully, you don’t have to decide. You can use the Doctor on Demand app, and you can get an educated opinion from a board-certified MD. The app offers 24-7 access to U.S.-licensed physicians specializing in internal medicine, pediatrics, and gynecology, among other specialties. When you open the app, you’ll enter symptoms and any allergies, plus any medication you (or your child) are currently taking. The doc can talk you through symptoms, prescribe meds, and refer you to a local specialist—or the ER—if she decides it’s necessary.

As for patients who are wary about sacrificing the in-person high-touch experience for a high-tech one: According to a study published in June 2020, in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, patients who used Doctor On Demand’s video-based option gave a thumbs up to the overall experience—and not just because of the easy access and convenience. They also cited the rapport they were able to build with the physicians.

YOU WANT: To Resolve a Routine Medical Issue
TRY: Teladoc

A pioneer in the world of telemedicine, Teladoc offers 24-7 access to a national network of physicians, dermatologists, therapists, registered dietitians, and pediatricians via phone call, video conferencing, the web, or smartphone app. All Teladoc health-care providers have gone through a special credentialing process and are trained in how to provide the best virtual care experience. (Know the differences between MD and DO before choosing a doc.)

According to the company, about nine in 10 patients have their non-emergency medical issues addressed in a single call, eliminating the need for follow-up appointments for most users. Don’t speak English? No worries. Teladoc’s service is offered in more than 30 languages.

YOU WANT: To Text Your Doc About a Chronic Condition
TRY: Pingmd

You’re wondering about some mysterious brown spots on your skin. Or your pain has improved after a new medication you started, but now you’re wondering if that stomachache is a side effect. Don’t you wish you could have a chat with your doc without leaving home?

Enter Pingmd. The app allows patients to send health concerns to their own doctors via text, video, or photograph whenever they want. Doctors then respond directly or pass the message along to a colleague or someone else in their network. Every “ping” is saved in your medical record for future reference. That means your doctor can keep an eye on your condition and let you know if you need to come in for a visit. The service is free for patients—but if your doctor isn’t one of the 10,000-plus using the service, you’re out of luck for now.

YOU WANT: To See the Same Doctor  

You liked the way a particular doctor you met though MDLive handled that sudden bout of nausea a while back. Now you’d like to return to her for something equally routine, but not so urgent—like, say, your annual wellness visit. No problem.

MDLive offers the usual array of qualified health-care providers and specialists who can treat more than 50 routine conditions—from respiratory woes, pink eye, and constipation to acne, eczema, and alopecia, to anxiety and depression—by video, phone, or app; and write referrals and prescribe meds 24-7-365. In addition, though, the service offers the opportunity to select and develop an ongoing relationship with a virtual primary care doc who can provide comprehensive primary care, including preventive care and chronic care disease management.

YOU WANT: Answers to Some Confounding Questions

We live in an era of information overload, so online searches on topics like anxiety and specialized diet plans are liable to return conflicting, or even dubious, results. For the lowdown, you talked to your doctor, but now you want more details or a second opinion. Where do you turn?

Consult HealthTap. It connects you to more than 50,000 doctors and dentists from across the country for peer-checked answers to medical questions. You can search for topics of interest—everything from ADHD to wilderness medicine—and ask a question of your own. Doctors will respond and review each other’s answers for accuracy, so you can get a variety of opinions and look for a consensus.

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