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How to find the right virtual health service

You may have heard of some of these virtual health services, but are they worth it? Find out which one would work for you and your family.

Virtual health, sometimes called telehealth, is an idea whose time has come.

First and foremost, there’s the convenience of using online video, mobile apps, texting and various social platforms to deliver medical services that used to be available only in person.

When you’re sick or nursing a minor injury, you don’t necessarily want to deal with the hassles of making and going to an appointment with your doctor. Why disrupt your workday, or necessary recovery, to commute to a doctor’s office when you can get high-quality health care through your laptop?

Virtual health options can also be personalized. As the Harvard Business Review noted in 2018, “In the process, patients can become more engaged in their own care, and one-size-fits-all care services will be slowly supplanted by increasingly personalized options — allowing people to choose care on their own terms.”

Think of it this way: If, say, Spotify™ or Netflix® can learn your cultural tastes and make spot-on recommendations, why not your virtual doctor?

Then there’s the greater good. The American Association of Medical Colleges projects a shortfall of some 40,000 primary care physicians by 2030 — a problem that requires creative solutions, including virtual health services. Those remaining doctors will likely be overwhelmed by serving our aging population, which means even less time for helping those of us on the younger side dealing with, say, the flu or the common cold.

Finally, there’s the bottom line: Virtual health services are less expensive than an in-person visit to your doctor. The savings actually go well beyond what you see on your bill. A recent analysis by Accenture found that replacing regular doctor’s visits with virtual health options could save the U.S. health system nearly $10 billion annually. Accenture also found that if virtual health were applied to just one condition, diabetes care, it would free up nearly 12 million hours of clinicians’ time for other work.

So, virtual health services are often more convenient, more personal, less expensive for you and for the health system at large, and generally more efficient within an extremely complex medical services system. But which virtual health services are the right fit for you?

Here are the leaders in the field, based on a survey of online reviews and our own impression of services offered. All these apps are available for Google Android™ smartphones and iPhone™.

American Well®

American Well is more of an online doctor than a virtual health service, in the sense that you just log on (online or on your phone) and see the first available clinician. This is different than scheduling an appointment or selecting a specialist in advance.

Membership fee: $0

Cost per visit: $69

Pro: AmWell functions as an online doctor. Once you sign up for the service (for free), you enter an online waiting room, with an average wait time of about three minutes.

Con: You can’t schedule an appointment.

Doctor On Demand™

You might know this from television’s Phil McGraw, aka Dr. Phil, who co-founded this service with his son.

Membership fee: $0

Cost per visit: $75 for a consultation

Pro: Doctor On Demand now offers Synapse, a service that helps connect your on- and offline care.

Con: It does not accept Medicare.

LiveHealth Online®

LiveHealthOnline is one of the most affordable services, with visits starting at just $49 per visit — and that’s without insurance.

Membership fee: $0

Cost per visit: $49

Pro: It offers a wide range of services, including dermatology and psychiatry. Also, it offers Spanish-language services.

Con: It has no option to contact individual physicians with follow-up concerns.

MDLIVE™

This live-video service is backed by some of the health care industry’s biggest players. MDLIVE has partnered with Walgreens™ and Skype®. It’s backed, in part, by the health care giant Cigna.

Membership fee: $0

Cost per visit: $75 or less for an urgent care visit.

Pro: Doctors average 15 years of experience, and the service is available in all 50 states.

Con: It’s among the more expensive services.

MinuteClinic®

While not strictly a virtual health service, MinuteClinic, inside CVS Pharmacy™ and Target® stores, includes video visits as part of its offerings. This is part of a larger trend of telehealth becoming an offering from the bigger players, rather than a niche service from startups. (Eligible Haven Term policyholders have access to Haven Life Plus, which includes a 15% discount on any single MinuteClinic service.)

Membership fee: $0

Cost per visit: $59

Pro: It has a 40-state network of doctors and an enormous suite of offerings.

Con: Health insurance coverage for video visits “coming soon.”

PlushCare

Co-founded by a San Francisco-based doctor, who ran appointments from the back of his office, PlushCare is now available in all 50 states and offers a wide variety of services.

Membership fee: $0

Cost per visit: $99

Pro: All doctors are chosen from the top 50 medical schools in the U.S. then interviewed and tested before being selected for the app.

Con: While most virtual health care apps are on-demand, this one requires you to book an appointment, (though it only requires 15 minutes’ notice).

Teladoc™

Founded in 2002, Teladoc is one of the oldest virtual health services, and with good reason: It’s the top-rated virtual health services provider in terms of both satisfaction and customer service, according to J.D. Power. More than 200 Fortune 1000 companies provide Teladoc to employees.

Membership fee: $0

Cost per visit: $49

Pro: Teladoc has a large network of providers and compatibility with many health insurance plans.

Con: There can be a lack of choice regarding your doctor, and lack of communication between Teladoc and your primary care provider.

Choosing the best virtual health service for your goals

While there are a lot of virtual health services on the market, the best one is one you’ll actually use. A virtual health service can help you access quality medical care and services for you and your family, but ultimately, the service is a tool that’s only as good as you make it.

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About Louis Wilson

Louis Wilson is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in a wide array of publications, both online and in print. He often writes about travel, sports, popular culture, men’s fashion and grooming, and more. He lives in Austin, Texas, where he has developed an unbridled passion for breakfast tacos, with his wife and two children.

Read more by Louis Wilson

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

Trademarks for this article:

Android is a trademark of Google LLC.

iPhone is a trademark of Apple Inc.

Spotify is a trademark of Spotify AB.

Netflix is a registered trademark of Netflix, Inc.

American Well is a registered trademark of American Well Corporation.

Doctor on Demand is a trademark of Doctor on Demand, Inc.

LiveHealth Online is the registered trademark of Anthem Insurance Companies, Inc.

MDLIVE is a trademark of MDLIVE, INC.

Walgreens is a trademark of Walgreen Co.

Skype is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation.

MinuteClinic is a registered trademark of CVS Health Corporation.

CVS Pharmacy is a trademark of CVS Pharmacy, Inc.

Target is a registered trademark of Target Brands, Inc.

Teladoc is a trademark of Teladoc Health, Inc.

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