Image for online medical consulting “I find emailing easier than phoning,” says Kurt S., a patient of TienaHealth in Texas. “I do not like leaving voice mail messages.” Kurt is one of many patients who uses a website to contact his doctor to ask for prescription refills and changes in his medicines.

“You have time to think about what you want to say,” he says. However, when his son came down with a sore throat, he used common sense and scheduled an office visit so the doctor could look at and culture his son’s throat. What are online medical consults? When is the right time to use them? Here is some information that may help.

What Are Online Consults?

An online consult is a secure website that allows you to communicate with your doctor via a password-protected email account.

When Do You Use Online Consults?

If you have an ongoing medical condition, online consults are an ideal way of updating your doctor about how you are doing or how you responded to a new medicine. They can also be useful if you need to clarify any advice you received during an office visit or if you have general health questions but do not need to see your doctor for an exam.

Some doctors will even offer second opinions or advice online to patients that they have never met. But, this practice is controversial. Without an exam, the doctor could miss something important. The American Medical Association (AMA) is just one organization that advises doctors not to treat unseen patients. Nonetheless, some prestigious healthcare providers do offer online evaluations to patients they have not seen “in person.”

Pain specialist Lynne Carr Columbus, DO, is in the Medfusion network. She requires patients on powerful pain pills to check in monthly. Stable patients can alternate between in-person and electronic visits. She also has the ability to review patients’ pain diaries and drug use online and can make suggestions if necessary.

Bear in mind that if you choose to use an online medical consult, you should keep your messages to your doctor clear and concise. Take the time to organize your thoughts. Remember any email you send will become part of your medical record.

When Not to Use Online Consults

If you have a new medical problem that needs to be diagnosed, an office visit is probably still your best bet. That way your doctor can do a physical exam and ask additional questions.

You should also never use an online consult if you have a medical emergency and need a quick answer. Difficulty breathing, bleeding, or severe abdominal pain all require immediate, personal medical attention.

You should also avoid using online medical consults for sensitive subjects, such as mental health, drug abuse, or HIV status. Although these websites are secure, privacy is always a concern.

With the current proliferation of services it may be very difficult to be sure that the services provided are high quality, or even legitimate. Seeking internet-based consultation from recognized sources, such as well-known clinics or medical universities, can help ensure that any information received is accurate.


Some practices will charge an annual fee for online consults. But, in some cases, the doctor will be the one to decide whether or not to charge for the service.Online sites that offer consultations can cost around $30, but there may be other fees involved, as well.

While standard insurance usually will not pay for online services, patients with a medical flexible spending account often may submit online consult bills for payment.


Well-educated, web-savvy people seem to be the most comfortable with online consults, says Milam. Often users are busy professionals who do not want to miss time from work waiting to see the doctor.

But, they are not the only ones. Online medical consults may solve transportation problems for older adults or people who cannot drive. In fact, the majority of Dr. Columbus’s online patients are older and include a 90-year-old.

Offering email messaging has certainly brought Dr. Columbus new patients. “I think it is a nice adjunct to any practice and cannot understand why anyone would not use it,” Dr. Columbus concludes. “I have found it very beneficial.”