If you’re like most of your neighbors and friends this time of year, you probably feel crunched. Between our jobs, holiday shopping, school events, housework, child care and errands, it’s no wonder that more than 60 percent of working Americans say they do not have enough time to do what they want.

In our precious downtime, nearly 80 percent of us rely on a smartphone to stay connected to news, services and each other. A study by UnitedHealthcare shows that nearly 30 percent of Americans use the internet or mobile apps as our first source for information about health conditions. In fact, you might have noticed a growing number of apps that enable you to receive medical care virtually. Virtual care, also known as remote care, telehealth, telemedicine or online visits, is medical care that’s delivered using technology rather than through an in-person consultation.

Research has found that 77 percent of consumers are open to seeing their doctor virtually. Yet fewer than 20 percent have done so.3 Is virtual care a good choice for you? Here are some things to consider:

• Check your benefits: Some health plans offer virtual visits as a benefit, through physicians in their local networks and/or through a national service.    

• Grab your smartphone, tablet or computer: Via an online connection that uses special security to protect your privacy, a doctor or other clinician sees and hears your concerns and symptoms, and prescribes treatment. A virtual visit can take place anywhere you have Wi-Fi or data access, and in many cases 24/7.

• Use virtual visits for the right things: Virtual visits are for minor medical conditions. They can be a huge time-saver for people who suspect a bladder or urinary tract infection, a respiratory or sinus infection, a rash, stomachache or diarrhea, or a migraine headache.4 Some care providers offer telehealth visits for chronic conditions or behavioral health issues. Virtual visits aren’t appropriate for a hands-on physical exam, or for certain tests or X-rays. In an emergency, call 911 or go to an emergency room.

• Understand the cost: Virtual visits through your health plan usually cost the same or less than an in-person doctor visit. Independent telehealth services usually charge $50 to $75 per visit. In any case, your cost for virtual visits is usually lower than urgent care and emergency room visits.5

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) pointed out that a virtual visit saves 106 minutes on average, compared to an in-person appointment.6 Tapping an app could give back more than an hour of your day.

Best of all, virtual visits can help you access the care you need, when you need it. Whether that means learning that your cough is nothing serious or getting treatment sooner when pinkeye appears on a Saturday night, virtual care might be just what the doctor ordered.


Dr. Thomas Biuso is senior medical director at UnitedHealthcare of Arizona.