How to Assess Online Health Providers: 9 Questions to Ask

Telemedicine has moved off the sidelines and into the limelight as a result of COVID-19. Many consumers who never considered getting diagnosed or treated via FaceTime or another virtual portal are opening up to the possibility. If you’re one of them, you’re ready to explore the advantages that come from a telehealth arrangement, such as being able to get top-notch care from wherever you are.

Of course, when you start to study all the telemedicine choices, you’ll be bombarded by loads of providers and options. To help you make wiser decisions about the online healthcare partners you ultimately pick, ask and answer the following questions. They’re designed to make the experience of choosing telemedical professionals and companies less risky and more reliable.

Question 1: Is the Provider Upfront About Costs?

As an informed patient, you should always know exactly how much you’re paying for and what you’re getting for your investment. Put your trust in telehealth companies like Nurx that make it clear how much you’ll pay for an initial consultation and follow-ups. When providers are transparent about pricing, you can feel more confident that they’ll be transparent about everything else, such as processes, protocols, guidelines, regulations, and the doctors who will care for you. 

Question 2: Will the Provider Work with Your Insurance?

You’ll want to rely on your healthcare insurance to cover as much of your telemedicine visit fees as possible. When you look into a specific telehealth provider, be certain to find out if the provider works with your insurance carrier. Not sure, even after discussing insurance with its healthcare customer care reps? You may have to call your insurance carrier, even if the provider gives you the green light. This doesn’t mean you can’t pick a provider that doesn’t work with your insurance carrier — it’s just best to cover your bases so you’re not surprised by a hefty bill that’s been denied by your insurance plan.

Question 3: Can the Telehealth Provider Work in Your State?

Because telemedicine is a relatively new concept, aspects of it may not be legal in some states. Depending upon the type of virtual healthcare you need, you may have to look up government regulations for your part of the country. Check out the Center for Connected Health Policy’s interactive map, which is designed to bring you updated information on states and reimbursement from private insurers and public insurance like Medicaid. There, you’ll also find insights into whether your state recognizes cross-state licenses of telehealth providers.

Question 4: Will the Provider Require Access to Your Health Records?

You probably already have health records on file with at least one physician — more likely, many of them. Learn from your preferred telemedicine company whether it will need access to some or all of those records. If it does, you may have to give written consent for the records’ release. Don’t let this get in your way, even if it seems like a pain to make phone calls to former doctors who might not be on board with telemedicine yet. It keeps you safe and makes sure your teledoctor can make informed recommendations.

Question 5: Does It Have the Telemedicine Services You Need?

You’ve found a telehealth company that you really like. Congratulations! But before you become a full-fledged patient, ensure the services it provides are the ones you actually need. Some telehealth providers focus their attention on specific niches, such as women’s family planning or age-specific conditions. The best telemedicine in the world won’t be meaningful if it isn’t relevant to your situation.

Question 6: Are Its Reviews Generally Favorable?

Patients routinely write reviews for telehealth companies. Some will be positive; others will lean negative. Instead of just reading the negative ones and making a snap judgment, check out all the feedback you can from current and former patients. That way, you’ll get a comprehensive picture of what to expect if you work with the provider. Ideally, the good reviews should outweigh the bad ones. If they don’t, move on to a different telemedicine practitioner or business.

Question 7: Do You Understand How This Provider’s System Works?

No telehealth solution fits every provider. Each one has a different way of serving patients. If you don’t see a flowchart or protocol explanation on a telehealth company’s site, feel free to ask a customer service representative about the practice’s online operations. Having a good sense of the flow of patient care is essential. For example, the last thing you want is to expect to see your doctor online, only to discover that your telehealth provider works only through audio and emailed images, not video.

Question 8: Will You Need to Buy Any Extra Equipment?

In general, telemedicine providers work over the internet, which means standard devices and Wi-Fi are generally all you need to get care. Therefore, you shouldn’t have to pay for extra devices to get seen. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to make sure you don’t need something like a working printer, scanner, or fax. The easier — and less expensive — it is for you to receive treatment, the better. 

Question 9: Do You Feel Comfortable Moving to an Online Healthcare Model?

The final question is more for you than for any telemedicine provider you’re considering: Are you ready for the realities of telehealth? Be honest. Telemedicine is terrific, but not if you’re uncomfortable talking over your laptop or phone with a physician you’ve never met in person — and may never meet in a traditional office setting. As long as you feel OK with a completely virtual patient-doctor relationship, you’re probably ready to try some telehealth. Otherwise, you might be better off seeing if your current doctors provide telemedicine occasionally.

Telemedicine isn’t something that’s going away after COVID-19 is a distant memory. It’s here to stay, which means you’ll probably want to try it eventually. Just make sure to ask the right questions to guide your decisions.