What is telemedicine, how to use it

Through Cigna, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Aetna and United Healthcare's telemedicine programs, you can get help with problems such as sore throat, stomachache, fever, cold and flu, allergies, rash and UTI.

It may cost around $50, which might be more than your usual copay but it's less than an urgent care center.

Many doctors would prefer you to use this method of diagnosis if you suspect you have the flu to prevent spreading the virus. You can only get a confirmation flu test at a doctor’s office, but a doctor can prescribe the antiviral Tamiflu through a phone consultation.

Aetna’s telemedicine service provider, Teledoc, is expanding the role of virtual visits in 2019 to include dermatology and psychiatry.

This is major for people outside big cities.

Dr. Anna Ratzliff says telepsychiatry gets advanced mental health care to people in remote areas.

"When we use telepsychiatry, we can get out to those small places like Dayton and help impact the health care for those 4,000 people that before telepsychiatry didn't really have access to a psychiatrist at all,” Ratzliff, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, University of Washington School of Medicine, said.

Dr. Ian Bennett treats a lot of pregnant women and new moms with depression. He says a telepsychiatrist makes his work as a physician easier.

“Linking those all together means that the patient walks out and has an experience with a health system that's much more satisfying and effective. They are more functional at the end of the day,” Bennett said.

Medicare already covers mental health, including family therapy through telehealth services. Plus, they said they can address issues like kidney disease and substance abuse.

If you're unclear what kinds of doctors you can access through telemedicine, call the number given to you by your insurance provider and ask. You should not be billed for the consultation until you're connected to a doctor.

However, if you do not have insurance, there is a company in Houston that claims to be free for people just needing advice from a nurse. It’s called Instanurse, and it’s available online or through a phone app, click here for details.