photo of senior using telemedicine
In This Article

Not too long ago, seeing a doctor was straightforward. If you felt sick, you’d make an appointment. You’d call or see your doctor in person, and head to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription.

But times are changing. Many health care providers are adapting the way they practice medicine. Once you understand the ways health care has shifted, you’ll be set to navigate the new landscape.

Intro to Telemedicine

In this practice, doctors use technology, like computers or smartphones, to provide care from a distance. You can have a face-to-face video visit with your doctor from home. You may also send pictures or videos of your issue, such as snapshot of a skin rash.

The big benefit to telemedicine is that it’s easy, convenient, and lowers your exposure to germs. Instead of going to the office, you talk to your doctor on your phone, iPad, or computer, on an app or video platform like FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, or WhatsApp.

You can ask questions, describe how you feel, and show your doctor symptoms by holding them up to the camera. But if you need a physical exam or have symptoms like shortness of breath, a cough that won’t stop, or belly pain, an office visit is best. Your doctor will help you decide what to do.

According to a recent survey, more than 1 in 5 doctors use telemedicine.The idea is that it’s faster and easier than having to drive to a medical office. Experts say it also saves doctors’ time and lowers health care costs.

Studies suggest that in some situations, telemedicine can work just as well as seeing a doctor in person. Talk to your doctor if you’re interested, but know that not all conditions can be treated virtually.

How Does a Telemedicine Appointment Work?

Your doctor’s staff will help you get started with telemedicine.  It may be as easy as clicking on an email link. Ask a family member or friend to help set up your computer or phone ahead of time. Telemedicine is covered by insurance, including Medicare.

To have a video appointment, you’ll need a smartphone, tablet, or computer with a webcam. Your doctor’s office may provide an app that you’ll need to download. Follow these steps for a successful visit.

  • Set up in a private space, so you can discuss personal medical information. Make sure it’s well-lit, so the doctor can see you.
  • Turn off any background noise, such as the television.
  • Write down any questions for your doctor. Keep pen and paper nearby to write down the answers.
  • Do a test run of your computer and the app before your appointment.

Urgent Care

If you have a life-threatening emergency, call 911 or head to the emergency room (ER). If your injury or illness isn’t life-threatening but can’t wait until the next day, consider an urgent care center.

These clinics are a good option if your regular doctor isn’t available, or if you have a problem outside of office hours. They’re staffed by health care providers, such as doctors and nurse practitioners. Many offer X-rays and lab testing.

It’s always a good idea to call ahead and make sure they can help with your specific problem, or if you need to go to the ER. But in general, you can go to an urgent care center for a range of medical issues, including:

  • Falls and accidents
  • Fever and flu
  • Minor broken bones and fractures
  • Shallow cuts that may need stitches
  • Skin rashes and infections
  • Moderate back problems
  • Minor burns
  • Breathing problems, such as mild to moderate asthma
  • Eye irritation and redness
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, or dehydration

Going to an urgent care center can save you time and money. Most of the time, you’re seen in 30 minutes or less. Urgent care treatment is usually covered by insurance. The average cost is around $100 to $150. That’s compared to the average ER room bill of more than $1,300.

Online Pharmacies

Order your prescriptions online. They’ll arrive at your door, saving you a trip to the pharmacy. But it’s important that you research the pharmacy carefully. The majority of online pharmacies are fake. They may sell counterfeit or misbranded drugs.

In fact, one in six Americans have bought a prescription drug online without a prescription. That’s risky, because these medicines may not have the right amount of an active ingredient, or they may contain harmful ingredients.

Before you fill a prescription online, look for an online pharmacy that has a:

  • Requirement for a valid prescription
  • License from your state board of pharmacy
  • U.S. state-licensed pharmacist available to answer questions
  • U.S.-based street address

You can also look for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy’s Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) Seal.

Be wary of online pharmacies that don’t require a prescription and offer super-low prices that seem too good to be true. Also avoid those that are based outside the United States.

Retiring Doctors

The baby boom generation has entered the retirement age. This includes tens of thousands of doctors. You may find that you need to find a new primary care doctor, such as a family practitioner or internist. Or you may see a geriatrician, a doctor who specializes in treating older patients.

You need to trust your doctor and feel comfortable speaking with them. These steps can help you find the right match:

  • Make a list of doctors. Get referrals from friends and family members. Look through your insurance plan’s list of doctors.
  • Decide what you want. Ask yourself if it’s important that your doctor have evening office hours, is linked to a certain hospital, or is part of a group practice.
  • Research them. Look up their credentials and reviews online. Call your local or state medical society to see if they have any complaints.
  • Call them. Ask the office staff about their policies and payment procedures. You may also want to make an appointment to meet the doctor and talk about your needs.

When making your decision, consider if the doctor gave you a chance to ask questions and listened to what you had to say.

Show Sources

Photo Credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images


Society for Health Care Strategy & Market Development: “Evolving Healthcare Landscape.”

Washington State Hospital Association: “Frequently Asked Questions About Telemedicine: A Patient’s Guide.”

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Survey, FP Expert Agree: Interest in Telehealth on the Rise,” “What’s the difference between telemedicine and telehealth?”

Today’s Geriatric Medicine: “Technology: Health Care Solve for Elders?”

Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology: “Telemedicine as Effective as In-Person Visits for Persons with Asthma.”

Neurology: “National Randomized Controlled Trial of Virtual House Calls for Parkinson’s Disease.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Video Visits from Home.”

Mount Sinai Health System: “What is Urgent Care and When Should You Use It?”

Urgent Care Association: “Booming Urgent Care Industry Fills Gaps in Patient Care.” “Emergency Rooms vs. Urgent Care Centers.”

American Academy of Urgent Care Physicians: “What is Urgent Care Medicine?”

News Release, U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

American Pharmacists Association: “Illegal Online Drug Sellers: How to Stop Them?”

Journal of Medical Internet Research: “Health Outcomes in Patients Using No-Prescription Online Pharmacies to Purchase Prescription Drugs.”

FDA: “How to Buy Medicines Safely From an Online Pharmacy.”

Texas Medical Center: “Bracing for a Deficit of Doctors.”

National Institute on Aging: “How to Choose a Doctor You Can Talk To.”

Aging Today: “Emergency! Yes? No. Urgent Care Centers Are on the Rise, Filling in the Care Gap for Elders.”

Alexis Halpern, MD, NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Joel I. Silverman, DO, FACP.