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.
This was true even before the pandemic, when many of us had the experience of seeing a healthcare professional through our laptop screens for the first time, checking on everything from COVID-19 to side effects from prescribed medication or concerns about an elevated heart rate, and beyond.
First and foremost, there’s the convenience of using online video, mobile medical 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, via a virtual house call?
Virtual care options can also be personalized for your medical history. 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? According to Accenture, 90% of adults said they were satisfied with the quality of their telehealth care during the pandemic.
Then there’s the greater good. The American Association of Medical Colleges projects a shortfall of some 48,000 primary care physicians by 2034 — 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. (Per Cigna, the average cost of a non-urgent virtual care visit is $93 less than going in person; for urgent care, the savings spike to $141 per visit.)
And 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 free apps are available for Google Android™ smartphones and iPhone™.
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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 from scheduling an appointment or selecting a specialist in advance.
Membership fee: $0
Cost per visit: $79
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.
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You might know this from television’s Phil McGraw, aka Dr. Phil, who co-founded this service with his son. But the service is now operated by Included Health, a healthcare startup.
Membership fee: $0
Cost per visit: $79 for a consultation
Pro: Doctor On Demand offers a wide array of services, up to and including mental health therapists who can issue an emotional support animal letter.
Con: If your consultation lasts longer than 15 minutes, you’ll be billed for a second visit. (They warn you if this is about to happen.
LiveHealthOnline is one of the most affordable services, with visits starting at just $59 per visit — and that’s without insurance.
Membership fee: $0
Cost per visit: $59
Pro: It offers a wide range of services, including dermatology and psychiatry. Also, it offers Spanish-language services.
Con: There are limits to what the doctors can do, including on Family and Medical Leave Act disability and insurance requests. Doctors can treat your kiddos, but cannot fill out forms for your child’s camp or school.
This live-video service is backed by some of the health care industry’s biggest players. MDLIVE has partnered with Walgreens™. 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, and conditions it does not cover include ADHD, STDs, and severe cases of high blood pressure.
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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: Prices vary, but a comprehensive health screening starts at $59
Pro: It has an enormous suite of offerings, and is integrated with the MyChart medical records database. MinuteClinic offers translator services for 41 languages.
Con: As of 2023, mental health therapy is only available in 14 states.
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: $14.99 / month or $99 / year
Cost per visit: $129 (without insurance)
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 for patients are on-demand, this one requires you to book an appointment, (though it only requires 15 minutes’ notice).
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: $75, without insurance
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.
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
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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
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. This article is sponsored by Haven Life Insurance Agency. Opinions are his own.
Haven Life Insurance Agency offers this as educational information only and does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here. Haven Life is an online life insurance agency offering term life insurance issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. Haven Life does not provide medical advice, and this information should not be relied upon as such. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own medical professionals.
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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