What Is an Online Doctor & What Can They Treat & Prescribe?

By Zina Semenovskaya, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
June 9, 2022

Our current period of time is called the “digital age” for a reason.

The average American spends more than 11 hours per day interacting with various forms of media, according to a 2018 Nielsen report.

By 2025, a recent Upwork study estimates that 22% of the American workforce will work remotely (and likely communicate with their team via video calls and online messaging platforms).

It’s only natural that the medical field has started to evolve and digitize as well.

Online doctors are becoming more popular and accessible as they offer medical services to patients from different regions and backgrounds.

Online physicians are generally able to treat a wide variety of health conditions, from a simple urinary tract infections to mental health conditions like mild anxiety or depression.

Thanks to technology, medical facilities now offer virtual care in the form of telemedicine services which can involve taking your medical history, doing a virtual exam, and offering a treatment plan.

At K Health, we’re passionate about online medicine, and we’re committed to keeping it affordable and obtainable for everyone.

In this article, we’ll cover what online doctors are, how seeing a doctor online compares  to seeing a doctor in person, which medical conditions  they may be able to treat, and how to find the best online doctor for you.

What Is an Online Doctor?

An online doctor is a doctor who works online providing what is called telehealth services.

They have the same training and credentials as a doctor you would see in a medical clinic, such as the pediatricians, gynecologists, and psychiatrists you may have gone to in the past, but at least a portion of their practice consists of seeing patients over the internet.

Online doctors operate over video chat, phone calls, texts, or some combination of these three.

The term used for this method of service delivery is “telehealth services.”

One of the major benefits of making an online doctors appointment is that you don’t have to go anywhere or sit in a waiting room.

You can see a doctor from your home, office, or anywhere you need care.

You also don’t have to worry about taking days off of work or school to go to the appointment, since you can schedule it during a break or before or after your commute.

Another perk? You can access a medical professional whenever your schedule allows.

For instance, at K Health, we have licensed doctors available on the website 24/7, meaning that you can reach out on a Sunday at 10 p.m. when you’re lying in bed feeling anxious or sick. That’s a lot more convenient than having to reach a traditional clinic during business hours.

Online medical care is also discreet, which is great for patients who are nervous about seeking in-person care because of a worry about stigma or judgment from others.

You can gain direct access to a primary care physician any time you need to.

You should always feel like you can get your questions answered and that there’s no such thing as a stupid question when you see any healthcare professional.

Are you having performance anxiety in the bedroom, or feeling a burning sensation when you pee? Are you worried about a new rash, or think you may have been exposed to STDs?

An online primary care provider can discuss and evaluate your symptoms and put together a treatment plan that will work for you.

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Is an Online Doctor Like an In-Person Doctor?

The only difference between online doctors and in-person doctors is where they practice.

An online doctor offers health care services through the internet, while an in-person doctor works offline and will require in-person visits to access their services.

Doctors who operate online are required to go through the same education and training programs as any other doctor.

For example, online medical doctors will go to medical schools and will have an M.D. or D.O., and an online therapist will have a Psy.D. or other relevant degrees.

Online doctor services are not limited to adults alone; they can help treat and diagnose your child. Therapists are able to offer online therapy if needed. 

During an online doctor visit, the provider will ask the same questions as an in-person doctor, including:

  • What are your symptoms?
  • When did you start noticing these symptoms, and how severe are they?
  • What is your health history and your family’s health history?
  • Are you on a birth control plan?
  • What medications do you currently take?
  • Do you have any allergies?
  • Is there anything else you want to talk about?

You will be expected to answer the questions accurately as you do with an in-person doctor.

After getting to know you and your symptoms, they’ll either provide a diagnosis, offer testing, or refer you to someone for follow-up evaluation.

They’ll set you up with a prescription medication regimen if appropriate, or they will recommend over the counter medications and home care options to help your symptoms.

How Do Online Doctors Treat & Diagnose?

As you can probably imagine, online doctor consultations are a bit different than in-person appointments.

Here at K Health, we chat with you over text, so you simply reach out on our app to connect with a healthcare professional.

You can also use our symptom checker, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) technology to show you what the diagnosis was in other people with histories and symptoms similar to yours.

While AI is not a replacement for personalized care, it can be a helpful tool to give you an idea of what might be wrong, and whether your symptoms can be treated online.

Diagnosis can take between minutes and a couple of hours, depending on the condition. 

Online doctors like our team at K Health can treat the following symptoms and conditions:

If you suspect you have symptoms of COVID-19 that is widespread in the world today, you can book affordable online doctor visits with medical experts using your mobile device. 

When it comes to more complex conditions that require extensive testing, online doctors can’t always provide a diagnosis, but they can advise what in-person care you should seek next.

For instance, here at K Health, we can’t treat immunocompromised patients, severe behavioral conditions, people needing developmental assessments, or pregnancy-related symptoms or conditions.

While these health concerns are totally valid, they can be nuanced and require in-person professional support.

It’s also important to always call 911 if you’re experiencing a medical emergency. That’s the quickest and most efficient way to see someone in person ASAP and provide urgent care.

Your health plan may come in handy for such emergency care.

But for those day-to-day health concerns that don’t require an ER visit, online doctors are a convenient option. 

If you have a family member or friend that is not comfortable with or able to independently use the internet, you can also help them book their video visits with medical professionals online.

After their first visit, they will get used to the processes involved.

What Can Online Doctors Prescribe?

Online doctor prescriptions are the same as the prescriptions you’d get from any other healthcare provider.

Online doctors can prescribe medications such as antibiotics, daily medication for depression and anxiety, medicated creams, eye and ear drops, and others.

Depending on the medication and the specifics of your medical condition, hey can also set you up with prescription refills if you have a prescription expiring soon. They can also provide you with more relevant medical information. 

Below are some examples of medications your online doctor may prescribe:

If you are prescribed medication in tablet form, you can easily purchase it from a pharmacy store in your area. Every online doctor is different, but they might choose not to prescribe some medications.

For example, at K Health, we don’t prescribe controlled substances or medications that are highly subject to abuse.

That said, if you come to us with a medical concern and we don’t think we’re the right fit, we’ll suggest other options and refer you to another medical team so you can receive the best treatment.

Where to Find the Best Online Doctor

When searching for a new healthcare provider, it always helps to do your homework.

You want to make sure you’re seeing someone who is licensed, certified, and HIPAA compliant, meaning they keep your information totally private and secure. 

The great thing about online providers is that you aren’t confined to searching in your city or county. Sometimes, you also don’t have to deal with the headache of finding someone in your health insurance network.

At K Health, we answer questions from our patients and provide the same low rates regardless of whether or not you have health insurance coverage.

We also do not discriminate on the basis of gender/ gender identity, race, religion, or national origin.

Reading online reviews can be a great way to determine whether a medical provider is a right fit for you.

But keep in mind that everyone is different, and what works for one patient may not be the ideal situation for everyone else.

(Case in point: Have you ever read Amazon product reviews? They can be helpful to some extent, but sorting through the good and bad can be confusing!)

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When to See an Online Doctor

It feels great to know that you can get medical advice from online services like a live chat with a primary care doctor.

If you’re experiencing any kind of unusual health symptoms—pain, discomfort, sinus issues, GI upset, you name it—it’s usually worth seeing a medical professional to discuss your symptoms and what to do.

An online doctor can be a great option if it’s not an emergency.

All you need to do is to log on and book a telehealth appointment. It’s extremely convenient and often cheaper than seeing a doctor in person.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can online doctors prescribe antibiotics?
Yes, online doctors can prescribe a variety of antibiotics to treat conditions such as UTIs or sinus infections.
Do I need insurance to see an online doctor?
It depends on the provider. Here at K Health, we provide the same affordable rates regardless of whether or not you have insurance.
How much does an online doctor cost?
This varies by provider. K Health rates are $29 for a single visit or $9 per month for unlimited access to care.
Are online doctors legal?
Yes, but do your homework and find someone who is certified and HIPAA compliant, meaning they’ll keep your information private and secure.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Zina Semenovskaya, MD

Dr. Semenovskaya specializes in emergency medicine, and received her medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College. She is currently the medical director at Remote Emergency Medicine Consulting, LLC and splits her time working clinically as an emergency medicine attending in California and Alaska. She is the first of our doctors to be fluent in Russian.