How much do you spend visiting the doctor for a non-emergency?
According to the Healthcare Blue Book, people who go to the doctor’s office for a minor problem spend an average of $68. How much you actually spend depends on your insurance, co-pays, and your deductible. Either way, it’s a lot of money.
It can be agonizing to shell out the better part of $100 to be told you have something as simple as a UTI or ear infection. There’s a good chance you already know that’s what you have. But it’s what you need to do to get antibiotics and other medication to clear up those ailments.
What if you could get that prescription without visiting the doctor’s office? Can a doctor prescribe medication online? Keep reading to learn more.
Telehealth Could Save You Hundreds in Fees
Around the country, healthcare providers increasingly rely on a new technology known as telehealth.
A telehealth platform allows doctors to go on video calls with patients instead of forcing them to come into the office.
It started as a way to help provide better care to rural and other underserved communities. With telehealth, patients don’t need to drive an hour or more to see the doctor – assuming there’s even an appointment available. You get your prescription either direct to your pharmacy or via email to use at an online pharmacy like PharmaPassport.
Telehealth is a huge cost saver for both healthcare providers and patients. It frees up the physical resources in healthcare offices and saves both parties between $19 to $120 per patient visit. Providers also like it because it stops unnecessary emergency room visits, which saves even more money for everyone involved.
The technology also allows doctors to serve more patients.
For example, the Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa border is a large and very rural area. Sioux Falls is a central hub, but it’s still far away from many towns, especially for a general physician visit. However, with telemedicine, a doctor in Sioux Falls can get licensed in Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota and serve patients at their homes from the South Dakota office.
The program is called the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Commission#, and it offers opportunities for patients and doctors alike.
States Decide Whether Doctors Can Prescribe Medication Online
Not everyone in the U.S. has access to telehealth systems. Why? Because healthcare is highly regulated, and U.S. law doesn’t yet account for things like video chatting with your doctor.
Federal law doesn’t allow telehealth, but it doesn’t ban it either. So, it’s up to each of the 50 states to decide whether they want it.
Each state must define what’s called the patient-physician relationship. It also sets out the prescribing requirements. Some states require providers to physically see a patient before they can use telehealth and especially before they prescribe medication online.
The American Medical Association argues that a patient-physician relationship should always start with a face-to-face examination before enrolling in a telemedicine program.
You can find out how your state deals with telehealth and prescribing medications through this American Medical Association resource.
You Can Only Get E-Prescriptions for Minor Ailments
While telehealth is a growing trend, prescribing medications online is a different beast entirely. Why? Because many prescription drugs are controlled substances, and as the opioid epidemic has shown, they must be treated with great care.
In 2008, the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Protection Act effectively banned e-prescriptions for controlled drugs via telehealth consultations. The law was designed to close the opaque but gaping loophole that saw some physicians prescribing opioids, benzodiazepines, and amphetamines over the internet.
Even in states that embrace telehealth, you still won’t get controlled substances, but you might get things like antibiotics, birth control, and “lifestyle” medicines.
You Can Usually Skip the Doctor’s Office for “Lifestyle” Medications
In an ideal world, you should get every prescription with a physical exam from a doctor. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and healthcare technology companies are capitalizing on it.
Some drugs, known as “lifestyle” drugs, aren’t available over-the-counter but also don’t necessarily require the physical that SSRIs or amphetamines do. These drugs treat things like sexual dysfunction, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and hair loss. They are also prescriptions that some people may find embarrassing to discuss with their family doctor.
A new company called Hers offers women the chance to shop for certain prescriptions online without needing to talk to their current GP. They offer:
- Birth control
- Prescription skincare
- Prescription tablets for sex drive
- Prescription tablets for performance anxiety
- Vitamins and supplements (non-prescription)
Women who sign up meet with an online physician to consult on any prescription services. Then, their consultants provide recommendations and issue a script and the prescription if need be.
This is just one example of the kind of cost-saving measures that telehealth has brought into what should be routine and inexpensive care.
The Bottom Line: Can a Doctor Prescribe Medication Online?
So, can a doctor prescribe medication online for your family? The answer depends on where you live and what you need. Each state and practice takes its own approach to telehealth and telemedicine, and you may find some states embrace it more than others.
Generally, you can get things like antibiotics and birth control after a quick telehealth consultation with a physician. But if it’s more than a minor infection – or if your problem persists after you finish the medication – it’s still best to go in to see the doctor.
There’s no replacement for a face-to-face visit with your primary care physician!
Did you learn something new from this article? Check out more ways the internet can make running a family easier in our Technology archive.