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

By Zina Semenovskaya, MD
Medically reviewed
June 17, 2021

There’s a reason people call this time period the “digital age.” The average American spends more than 11 hours per day interacting with various forms of media, according to a 2018 Nielsen report.

And 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 as well. Online doctors are becoming more popular and accessible for patients from all different regions and backgrounds.

These physicians can treat a wide variety of health conditions from a simple urinary tract infection to a mental health condition like anxiety or depression. 

At K Health, we’re passionate about online medicine, and we’re committed to keeping it affordable and obtainable for anyone. Here, we’ll cover what online doctors are, how they compare to seeing a doctor in person, what they can treat and prescribe, and how to find the best online doctor for you.

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What Is an Online Doctor?

An online doctor is a doctor who works online (yep!). They have the same training and credentials as a doctor you’d see in a medical clinic, but their practice consists of seeing patients over the internet.

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

One of the major benefits of making an online doctor’s appointment is that you don’t have to go anywhere. You can see a doctor from your home, office, or anywhere you need care. 

Another perk? You can access a professional whenever your schedule allows. For instance, here at K Health, we have licensed doctors available 24/7, meaning 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 to seek in-person care because of a stigma or judgment from others.

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. Having performance anxiety in the bedroom? Feeling a burning sensation when you pee? Online doctors can help.

Is an Online Doctor Like an In-Person Doctor?

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

Doctors who operate online are required to go through the same education and training programs as any other doctor. For example, an online medical doctor will have an M.D. or D.O., and an online therapist will have a Psy.D. or other relevant degree. 

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?
  • What medications do you currently take?
  • Do you have any allergies?
  • Is there anything else you want to talk about?

After getting to know you and your symptoms, they’ll either provide a diagnosis or refer you to someone for follow-up testing. If needed, they’ll also set you up with a prescription medication regimen or refill. 

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 professional. You can also use our symptom checker, which uses AI technology to show you how doctors have treated other people with similar symptoms and medical histories.

It’s not a replacement for personalized care, but it can be a helpful tool to give you an idea of what your body might be telling you. 

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

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

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 to treat the conditions listed above, and they can also set you up with refills if you have a prescription expiring soon. 

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

  • Antibiotics
  • Antidepressants (SSRIs) 
  • Antihistamines
  • Steroids
  • Phosphodiesterase (PDE) inhibitors

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 so you can receive the best treatment.

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Where to Find the Best Online Doctor

When searching for a new medical 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 provide the same low rates regardless of whether or not you have health insurance.

Reading online reviews can be a great way to determine whether a medical provider is the 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.)

Ultimately, go with your gut when you come across an online doctor you feel like you can trust. 

When to See an Online Doctor

If you’re experiencing any kind of unusual health symptoms—pain, discomfort, sinus issues, you name it—it’s probably worth seeing a medical professional. If it’s not an emergency, an online doctor can be a great option. It’s super convenient and often cheaper than going to see 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 $19 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.