Should you see an online doctor? Tips and costs for telehealth visits

CHICAGO (WLS) -- While the world's attention is focused on the coronavirus pandemic, adults and kids may still need a doctor for other reasons.

Telemedicine has been around for some time, but doctors say it's especially important during this pandemic. How do you know if need to see your doctor virtually or actually go in? One local doctor breaks it down.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we work, shop and even see the doctor.

Chicago OB-Gyn Dr. Wendy McDonald said she's seeing a number of her patients virtually. She said there are three types of health visits we should consider during the COVID-19 pandemic: Routine visits, emergency visits and problem visits.

"So, the routine visits are for things like your annual exam, your physical, the things that you do every year to make sure that you're healthy," said Dr. McDonald.

She explained you may want to consider waiting to do routine visits to avoid going inside a hospital or doctor's office.

"The emergent visits are the shortness of breath, the chest pain, the fevers, those are the visits where you need to be seen," Dr. McDonald said. "Go to an urgent care or emergency department, call your physician to see where you should go."

And that leaves the visits in between, the problem visits, which can be done virtually.

"So those are like abdominal pain that is just nagging and won't go away, heavy bleeding, or headaches," said Dr. McDonald. "Those are the best visits to try to schedule a telehealth visit with your physician."

But she said you shouldn't expect to simply hop on a video chat with your doctor. Prepare in advance to get the most out of your visit.

"Write down your symptoms, what are you experiencing, how often is it happening, how severe is it on a scale of 1-10, when does it occur," Dr. McDonald said. "Your healthcare provider is going to have to decode what you say, so the more detail you provide, the easier it will be for them to help you feel better."

And what about cost? Health experts say you should check with your insurance company. Many offer access to at-home healthcare options.

There are also telemedicine options if you're uninsured.

Your local urgent care or walk-in retail clinic may offer video consults with a healthcare provider quickly for a flat fee. CVS's Minute Clinics, for example, has video visits 24/7 for $59 in most states.

Telemedicine can be helpful in deciding whether you need to go to the doctor's office or to the ER. But it's important to remember though that if you suspect an emergency, call 911 right away.

If you need something like contact lenses or a hearing aid, there are a number of companies offering online eye exams and hearing tests, though some health care providers say those tests are not a substitute for a comprehensive in-office exam.

For more information on telemedine, visit www.consumerreports.org.
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