How Do Virtual Doctor Visits Work?

As our lives have moved indoors and online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so too has our everyday health care. To avoid spreading the virus at doctor’s offices and health care facilities, telemedicine is being recommended for all sorts of health care needs.

Telemedicine brings health care home
Telemedicine brings health care home.


Telemedicine connects patients to doctors and specialists from the comfort of their own homes through two-way video, email, smartphones, and wireless tools. Using these tools, health care professionals can remotely diagnose a variety of illnesses, prescribe treatment and medication, monitor your condition if you have a chronic illness, and even provide behavioral and mental health services. 

The finer details of the process vary depending on whether your telemedicine visit is being provided by your family doctor, an urgent care or other medical facility, a service offered through your health insurer, or any number of companies that provide telemedicine services for a fee. But the basics are the same.

Typically, medical office staff will talk through your issue and help decide if telemedicine could help you. In that discussion, doctors suggest noting your most urgent symptoms, how long you’ve had them, and what has changed in them that’s made you seek medical attention. If the nurse or medical staff determines telemedicine could help, you’ll be scheduled for a phone or, more likely, video appointment. 

You might enter a virtual waiting room until you connect with the doctor. The physician will ask you more questions about your symptoms, just as in an in-person visit. On a two-way video call—depending on your symptoms—the doctor may ask you to take deep breaths to observe how you’re breathing, to cough, or to show the rash or injury you’re concerned about. 

Just as if you were in the office, the medical provider may give you treatment instructions to follow or send a prescription order to your local pharmacy, and, if regular follow-ups are needed, you may schedule another virtual appointment.

To make the visit successful, take your temperature and weigh yourself beforehand. If you regularly use medical equipment such as a blood glucose meter or blood pressure monitor, have it handy during your virtual visit. If you’ve been monitoring a problem, such as a rash or swelling, you can take photos of the area over a series of hours so the doctor can see how it’s changing. 

As with any video chat, find a quiet place with good cell phone reception and a steady internet connection. If you’re using FaceTime or an app for the visit, test it before your visit starts so you can troubleshoot if needed.

In light of the pandemic, talk to your doctor to see if your regularly scheduled appointments can be done virtually. And, if you have a medical issue that would normally move you to call for an appointment or head to urgent care, check out your virtual options first. Telemedicine makes health care easy, and using it can protect you, health care workers, and patients everywhere.

Keep telemedicine an option at any time

When conditions have resumed, telemedicine is still a great option for meeting your health care needs.

Telemedicine helps you by:

  • Improving access to health care services and specialists
  • Offering convenient health care on your schedule
  • Addressing the shortage of providers, including behavioral health providers
  • Providing quality lifesaving, routine, and preventive health care
  • Saving travel time and costs for patients, especially in rural areas