If you haven’t had a visit with an online doctor yet, chances are you soon will. The age of telemedicine has firmly arrived, a time in which an increasing amount of our healthcare needs and interactions with trusted doctors can occur via websites and apps. Live chats, video visits, and unlimited messaging are bringing primary care directly into our homes and, in the process, offering improved access to quality healthcare and lower costs over time.
Traditionally, we all have hoped to find the best doctors in our geographic area. So how do you find the best online doctor for high-quality telemedicine? What service provides the most value if you’re on a budget? What kind of experience and attention can you expect, and how do online doctors fit into your overall healthcare?
We’ve tested over twenty companies and thoroughly compared their services and value. Here in this guide we will share our picks for best online doctor in 2021 and give you all of the details so you can decide what is best for you.
Summary of our 2021 recommendations for best online doctors
- Why you should trust us
- Personal goals when choosing telemedicine services
- How online doctors fit into your healthcare
- How online doctor visits work, and what to expect
- Comparing telemedicine companies and how they differ
- Doctor on Demand
- What criteria do we use to evaluate home health products and services?
Innerbody Research recently celebrated its 20-year anniversary. Over the past two decades, we have helped tens of millions of readers make more informed decisions about staying healthy and living healthier lifestyles.
This guide, like all medical-related content on Innerbody, is thoroughly vetted by one or more members of our Medical Review Board for accuracy. Additionally, we extensively analyze each health-related service we review. We evaluate the entire customer experience from signing up to the use of the product or service, and then offer unbiased, marketing-jargon-free analysis based on the latest scientific evidence and medical standards.
What type of care are you looking for? There are nearly as many types of doctors as there are health concerns. You might be looking for:
- Immediate attention for an urgent care situation (like the flu, a worrisome rash, etc)
- An ongoing primary care relationships with a dedicated doctor who almost completely replaces your existing doctor for ongoing health consultation and addressing chronic health concerns (like high blood pressure, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, etc)
- Specific, specialized care (like psychiatry, dermatology, or women’s health, for example) without having to go into an office
- Someone who can prescribe something you know you routinely need – like your birth control or hair loss prescription – and keep the prescription auto-renewing, and otherwise not be a big part of your healthcare
These are a few of the common scenarios in which people start working with online doctors. Telemedicine services are varied and accommodate a growing spectrum of healthcare needs, from ongoing to sporadic and from routine to intensive. It’s worth asking yourself what you are looking to achieve with an online doctor. Gaining clarity about that sooner rather than later will help you identify the best service and potentially save you money.
There are some limits to what telemedicine can currently do for us.
- Online doctors, even in the most robust relationships, complement in-person care rather than fully replace it. In many cases, you can nearly replace in-person care. However, certain tests require you to go to a lab; no at-home replacement exists for a CT scan or other specialized examinations.
- Video chat can accomplish a lot, but there is no current remote substitute for in-person physical exams.
- Online doctors have to be very careful prescribing medication and cannot prescribe everything that an in-person doctor can.
However, keeping these common limitations in mind, you can replace a great deal of your in-person care needs with telemedicine and online doctor’s “visits”, save yourself and the entire healthcare industry money. Telemedicine is expanding rapidly thanks to the opportunity that patients and providers both see to improve the overall picture of healthcare.
Certain high-risk prescriptions cannot be obtained due to the risk of abuse
For some medications, a doctor must perform an in-person exam in order to prescribe them to you. You cannot get the following treatments from an online doctor, whether your needs are legitimate or not:
- Opiates and opioids (Vicodin, morphine, oxycodone, etc.)
- Stimulants (Ritalin, Adderall, etc.)
- Antipsychotic medication (Abilify, Latuda, Clozaril, etc.)
- Sedatives and sleeping aids (benzodiazepines, barbiturates, etc.)
For these medications, you’ll need to get a prescription from a doctor in person. Your online doctor can refer you to a local physician for these needs.
Getting started with online doctors follows a general pattern, though there are slight variations.
Create your account. To enroll or enable the service, you will first create an account and provide a bit of information about yourself, in addition to how you will pay for the service (so that you can be billed). One common denominator among all telemedicine companies in this guide is that all of your information will be securely stored in a manner that follows the government’s stringent HIPAA guidelines, to protect your privacy.
Select the service you need. If you are intent on seeing a doctor now or soon, select which type of doctor/service you need. The top telemedicine companies in this guide make selection relatively easy, even though their service options may vary somewhat. You will be able to identify the type of service you need.
Visit the online doctor. Many services don’t require an appointment and are available 24/7; in these cases, you will simply wait a short time – typically only 10 minutes maximum, usually less – and see your doctor without any further ado. Compared to the traditional route of seeing a doctor in the office, this convenience is almost mind-boggling.
With some companies, an appointment is necessary, in which case you would select an appointment time and then meet with the doctor. Our favorite telemedicine companies let you complete a visit using a smartphone, tablet, or computer, though in some cases video isn’t possible from all devices. Depending on the state where you reside, you may be required to use video.
All of the top telemedicine services reviewed here ensure that their doctors meet high standards of care quality and experience. These doctors are all board-certified and trained to provide top-notch telemedical care. Our top choice overall, Lemonaid, insists that its doctors earn their degrees from a top 50 medical school.
But just as online doctors and their telemedicine services range in focus and the kind of relationship you will establish with them, so too there are other corresponding and concrete differences when it comes to:
- Price and pay structure
- Insurance coverage
- Scope of care
- Generosity of doctors’ time
We’ve tested all of the major players – and honorary mentions go to Sherpaa, MeMD, LiveHealth Online, HealthSapiens, and Maven – but will spotlight the group that impresses us most, for reasons you’ll discover below.
BEST FOR MOST PEOPLE
TIED: BEST FOR TIGHTEST BUDGET
Healthcare costs are already high. Many Americans are uninsured or underinsured. Lemonaid is a strong value with enough coverage and flexibility (in terms of prescriptions) to make it our top choice for best online doctor in 2021. No telemedicine service is perfect, but Lemonaid compensates for its disadvantages better than any other service at this time, in our opinion.
For instance, Lemonaid doesn’t accept insurance for doctor consultations. However, the price of most of these consultations is less than the standard $30 insurance copay of your traditional route accessing healthcare. Not only that, but if your insurance covers the medications prescribed by Lemonaid doctors, you can also instruct Lemonaid to send prescriptions to your local pharmacy so that you can use your insurance to pay for the medications.
Lemonaid’s online doctors can serve you across a multitude of health concerns, including:
- Primary care
- Dermatology and hair health
- Sexual health
- Women’s and men’s health
- Mental health
- Health testing
Through Lemonaid, you have access to doctors who address the following common chronic or acute concerns, among others:
Acid reflux, acne, anxiety and depression, asthma, birth control, cold sores cold, COVID-19, dark spots, erectile dysfunction, flu, genital herpes, hair loss, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hot flashes, hypothyroidism, migraine, premature ejaculation, primary care (general or immediate), sinus infection, smoking cessation, UTI.
Pricing and pay structure
Most consultations with a doctor will cost $25 per consultation. There are exceptions – such as mental health care for anxiety or depression – in which cases there is a monthly flat fee that covers ongoing consultations and care. The monthly flat fee for these mental health telemedicine services start at $95/month.
Lemonaid does not accept insurance, though as described above the consultation fees of $25 are either comparable or less than standard copays via the traditional in-office doctor’s visit. This means you pay less for more convenient and timely care delivered from the comfort of your own home.
But what about medications? This is another interesting aspect of Lemonaid’s services. Read on…
How you get your prescriptions
Lemonaid gives you a choice – you can:
- Use their network of pharmacies to receive your prescriptions in the mail.
- Tell Lemonaid that you want your prescriptions filled at your local pharmacy.
Having medications delivered to your doorstep is an unparalleled convenience, eliminating all trips to the pharmacy and providing a high level of privacy at the same time. But your choice may depend on whether your insurance (if you have insurance) covers the prescribed medication. If it does, then filling the prescription at your local pharmacy allows you to apply your insurance to cover some or all of the medication cost.
The ability to make this kind of decision for yourself is very user-friendly. Combined with the low price of consultations, Lemonaid’s convenient telemedicine services for many people can truly cost much less than the traditional healthcare route.
- Very competitive pricing that is lower than typical copays for many services
- Offers telemedicine services across a wide range of conditions, comparable to more expensive competitors
- Website and mobile app are both intuitive and user-friendly
- Partner pharmacies facilitate home delivery of your prescriptions, if desired
- Insurance not accepted for doctor consultations (though, as described above, visit costs are comparable to insurance copays)
Learn more by checking out our full Lemonaid review.
BEST IF MONEY IS NO OBJECT
SteadyMD aims to provide concierge healthcare service remotely and does an incredible job, taking primary care to another level. The amount of personal attention that you can receive from your dedicated, long-term physician at SteadyMD will startle most people; it is on par with – or better than – the most attentive, traditional primary care many of us have ever received.
Your doctor’s visit with SteadyMD can last an hour, or longer if needed – compared to around 10-15 minutes in a traditional doctor’s office. You can call, text or video chat with your doctor in an unlimited fashion. Your doctor will actually reach out to you, proactively, to check on you. SteadyMD gathers all of your medical records to make sure the care they provide is on the firmest possible footing. And SteadyMD doctors can provide this amount of attention because they see fewer patients per doctor than in a typical healthcare setting.
Pricing and pay structure
So what is the catch? Why isn’t SteadyMD our top pick overall? It boils down to the price tag, which is just too high for many people to afford.
SteadyMD doesn’t accept – and isn’t a replacement for – health insurance, and yet their pay structure is a monthly membership fee of $99 per person at minimum. Some of their programs cost more.
Concierge healthcare is the best lens through which to understand SteadyMD. Compared to traditional concierge healthcare, SteadyMD is a true bargain. The word “concierge” conjures images of VIP service in which a dedicated person offers luxury service to you, above and beyond what you would normally expect – be it at a resort, restaurant, club or entertainment venue. Concierge healthcare applies that same level of attention in the context of medicine, transforming your relationship with your doctor so that the doctor provides a level of care that makes you feel like a VIP.
“Steady” is a very appropriately name for this company. With SteadyMD, your interaction with a dedicated primary care doctor will be steady and meaningful, resulting in excellent long-term healthcare. In the world of online doctors providing telemedicine services, SteadyMD is the best for those who can afford the high cost. But that isn’t everyone.
If you consider that comprehensive and preventative healthcare could save many of us from astronomical costs of certain serious medical conditions later in life, then the ongoing price of SteadyMD is probably a great value over time. In reality, for many of us balancing our budgets each month, this is not something we can afford. But for those who can afford the monthly membership on top of their normal insurance expenses (to cover prescriptions, testing and specialist care), SteadyMD is a great service that adds enormous convenience to your life while giving you frankly unparalleled access to top-notch care from doctors.
- Strong preventative care
- Unparalleled attention from your dedicated doctor
- Personalized care molded to suit your lifestyle
- Great for people who anticipate needing or wanting very frequent medical attention
- Excellent value compared to traditional concierge healthcare
- Expensive – unaffordable for many
Learn more by visiting our full SteadyMD review.
BEST FOR ONE-OFF, IMMEDIATE CARE
Teladoc serves the entire United States with pay-per-visit primary care, dermatology consultations, talk therapy, and psychiatric care. It functions best as a “there-when-you-need-it” kind of immediate care service, rather than striving to be a personalized, comprehensive care experience.
Once you create your account (which can be set up for you as well as your children for pediatric care), you can pay per service at rates that depend on the nature of the visit. There are no appointments necessary. If a doctor prescribes medication for you, you will be able to pick it up at your local pharmacy.
We liked the fact that you can use your computer (as well as the mobile app) for video visits, which isn’t always the case. Sessions with a doctor are generous and not at all rushed. In our testing, the sessions worked well from any device (computer, smartphone, tablet).
How long are Teladoc wait times?
Our testers waited between 5 and 10 minutes for their visit – just slightly longer than competitors.
Telemedicine services and pricing
Visits fall under certain broad categories, which affect pricing:
- Everyday care – general, non-emergency primary care health concerns
- Dermatology – skin and hair concerns
- Mental health – this will either be for online therapy or for psychiatric care (psychiatric care being the costlier mode in which you’ll speak with a doctor and potentially receive prescription care)
Relative to some other companies, at the outset pricing does not seem completely clear, but partly this is because Teladoc accepts most major insurance, as well as HSA and FSA payments. Teladoc also works with some employers to provide telemedicine to employees.
If you are uninsured or your plan isn’t accepted, you will pay:
- $75 per everyday care visit
- $95 per dermatology visit
- $99 or more per mental health visit
Depending on coverage from insurance or various health plans through your employer – or if you opt to pay an annual membership fee (optional) of $29.99 individually or $49.99 as a family, visit costs drop to:
- $45 or lower for everyday care visits
- $75 or lower for dermatology visits
- $99 maximum for mental health visits
- Accepts most major insurance, as well as HSA and FSA
- Online doctor visits are very generous in length, basically as long as you need
- No appointment necessary
- Wait times were shorter than average, in our experience
- Visits cost more than high-quality competitors unless you have decent insurance and/or pay an annual membership fee
BEST FOR BUSIEST PEOPLE
In our testing and final assessment, Doctor on Demand occupies an interesting Goldilocks kind of position.
- The services of this company are high in quality – it is a solid choice all-around.
- It is not more affordable than competitors, though Doctor on Demand accepts major insurance such as Aetna, Humana, Cigna and UnitedHealthcare.
- Nor is Doctor on Demand more comprehensive in the services it offers or more generous with the time doctors commit during visits. On average, our testers’ visits were about fifteen minutes. However, the visits were comprehensive and efficient.
The reason that we choose Doctor on Demand for the busiest (insured) people is that the company offers you the flexibility to choose whether to wait a few minutes to be seen without an appointment or instead to schedule a fixed appointment and avoid the wait. For some people, having the appointment is very useful because it’s a fixed time you can plan your hectic schedule around, as opposed to waiting without an appointment.
To be clear, none of the competitors recommended in this guide required long wait times due to lack of appointments. But 5-10 minutes is still a wait time. If time is truly of the essence, and you have insurance, we can recommend Doctor on Demand as a solid telemedicine solution that saves you the wait times.
Doctor on Demand provides telemedicine in the following areas:
- Urgent care (allergy, cold/flu, migraine, UTI, etc)
- Preventative care (family medicine, smoking cessation, weight management, heart health management, etc)
- Behavioral health care (therapy as well as psychiatric care for anxiety, depression, and more)
- Chronic care (for health conditions like hypertension, diabetes, asthma, and the complications associated with them)
Pricing and pay structure
There is no membership; like other competitors, Doctor on Demand is a pay-per-service company. What you pay will be much more reasonable with insurance than without it.
Pricing without insurance:
- $75 for primary care – chronic, urgent or preventative
- $79 for behavioral therapy
- $229 for a first visit with a psychiatrist
- Flexibility to do “walk-in” visits or schedule appointments
- High quality of medical care
- Accepts most major insurance
- No membership or subscription fees
- Visit duration wasn’t the most generous
- If uninsured, pricing isn’t as affordable as competition
TIED: BEST FOR TIGHTEST BUDGET
There are three reasons why HeyDoctor shares with Lemonaid the distinction of being our top pick for the tightest budgets:
- Not all of its services are the cheapest, but many are slightly cheaper than the lowest prices elsewhere (including even Lemonaid).
- HeyDoctor can’t serve everybody across the nation – it’s only available in certain states, as opposed to Lemonaid which is available nationwide.
- HeyDoctor’s medical attention is more streamlined and compact.
HeyDoctor is a solid choice if you have very limited resources for obtaining medical attention and you aren’t looking for a dedicated, ongoing primary care relationship. HeyDoctor is where you can go if you have a strong feeling you know what you need and you’re looking for immediate attention in order to achieve things like health testing and prescriptions.
Telemedicine services and pricing
HeyDoctor provides pay-per-service telemedicine services in the following broad areas:
- Family planning and birth control
- Screening and testing services
- Primary care treatments and refills
- Addiction support
The whole process with HeyDoctor is very streamlined. Your actual interaction with doctors will be quite limited, as compared to other companies. Depending on the service you seek and the health information you provide, you may engage in a video call with a doctor. However, the doctor may review your information and, after just a brief interaction in text messaging, determine the proper course of action and prescribe treatment.
If testing or medication are prescribed, you will be able to pick up your prescription at a local pharmacy or use a delivery service like GoGoMeds to deliver it to your door. For testing, HeyDoctor partners with reputable local labs, which you would then visit in order to have the test administered.
The company avoids membership fees and does not accept insurance, but keeps prices low enough that you likely won’t care – if you’re lucky enough to live in an area where you can access it.
Prices are not a flat rate for all services, but instead vary depending on the nature of the healthcare you receive. Most services, however, cost in the ballpark of $20-$30. Our testers appreciated how HeyDoctor’s “menu” of doctor services is very clear and transparent.
This is a service that replaces only a small aspect of your greater healthcare picture. But it replaces those specific kinds of traditional medical attention with cheap and more convenient telemedicine, where available.
- Quick, no-frills attention for many prescriptions
- Most services are cheaper than other affordable options
- Services are clear and pricing totally transparent
- Not available nationwide
- You get what you pay for: less attention
- HSA, FSA, and insurance are not accepted
You can learn more about the company at our full HeyDoctor review.
RUNNER-UP for best overall
Plushcare is a close runner-up for best in class, but its services are more expensive and its membership (technically optional, but kind of essential) adds a monthly fee on top. However, Plushcare offers a 30-day free trial period, which is an excellent feature that helps Plushcare stand out from the pack in consideration for its prospective patients.
Plushcare addresses both chronic (ongoing) and urgent health concerns.
Chronic concerns include the following:
Acne, anxiety, asthma, back pain, birth control, depression, diabetes (type II), erectile dysfunction (ED), hair loss, high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, HIV PrEP, hypothyroidism, and seizures.
Acute (urgent) health issues (NOTE – if you’re having a health emergency, call 911):
Allergies, bronchitis, cellulitis, cold, dental infection, diarrhea, ear pain, flu, gout, hair loss, headache, male urethritis, migraine, nausea, PEP, pink eye, pneumonia, rash, sinus infection, strep/sore throat, swimmer’s ear (external ear infection), tonsillitis, UTI, vaginitis, yeast infection, and vertigo.
Pricing and pay structure
With Plushcare, you either:
- Pay per visit ($99)
- Use your insurance and pay a copay
In terms of insurance, Plushcare accepts most major providers including Aetna, Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield of California, Cigna, Humana, UnitedHealthcare, and others.
There is a monthly membership fee of $14.99 if you choose to become a member. Becoming a member is not absolutely necessary, but is advisable if you are using Plushcare. Non-members have to call in order to schedule appointments; can’t take advantage of app features, can’t book same-day appointments and can’t utilize the ongoing ability to message in an unlimited way with your online healthcare team.
If you need lab tests, your doctor will order them for a nearby lab. Plushcare partners with LabCorp to deliver high-quality lab testing.
- Accepts many major insurance providers
- 30-day free trial is very useful for people accessing telemedicine for the first time
- Veterans and active duty military pay only $49 per visit
- Membership is relatively low-cost
- You can have appointments via either computer or smartphone
- Appointment required
- Monthly membership fees will add up to $180 per year and is kind of essential in order to make the most of the service
RUNNER-UP for one-off, immediate care
Formerly known as American Well, Amwell illustrates the immense and rapid growth in telemedicine as its public trading debut came in September 2020 with a $742 million IPO. Amwell has also made recent inroads into women’s specialty care.
At this time, the company isn’t poised to replace a deeper relationship with your primary care physician but instead is geared toward providing intermittent and immediate care, similar to Teladoc.
- There are no appointments necessary with Amwell.
- Amwell isn’t a membership service.
- Amwell accepts most major insurance – Aetna, UnitedHealthcare, Cigna, Blue Cross Blue Shield and many others.
Opting for Amwell would make sense for those of us who are insured and often find ourselves with health questions when our child has a strange rash or ear infection.
However, our testers were not as impressed by Amwell’s service as Teladoc’s, when it comes to the amount of attention that its doctors can afford to give the patient. Whereas Teladoc’s visits felt limitless and there was enough time to get into the meat of an issue, Amwell felt somewhat more rushed and abrupt. Our Amwell visits lasted on average close to 10 minutes, and the longest visit was 13 minutes.
For straightforward health concerns, Amwell will likely satisfy. But if you are covered by a major insurer and looking for one-off, convenient doctor support between your routine primary care visits, Teladoc right now wins for its more generous doctor service.
Pricing and pay structure
Amwell’s structure is pay-per-visit, and pricing is very competitive:
- $69 for general immediate care, cardiology and menopause support
- $49 for dermatology
- $199 for the first psychiatric visit (then $95 for each follow-up visit)
- $59-$99 for online therapy
- $65 for nutritional counseling
- $69-$99 for pediatric care
Note that in some cases pricing isn’t so fixed; this is because Amwell’s doctors in a few care areas are allowed to set their own pricing, removing a little predictability for the patient.
- Accepts most major insurance
- No appointments necessary
- No membership fees at all
- Doctors set visit prices in some cases
- Uninsured or underinsured will pay more than with some competitors
- Doctor’s visits are relatively brief
We customize our evaluation criteria depending on the type and nature of the health product or service. For telemedicine services, we have five areas that we use for our evaluations, including:
Quality: Are the doctors on the service licensed to practice in the US? Are the physicians board certified in the relevant practice areas? Do they have a high quality medical review board with oversight? Are their treatment options FDA approved?
Value: Are you getting your money’s worth? Are there any hidden costs or charges? Does the provider offer discounts or free services to our readers?
Customer Support: How well does the healthcare provider help you choose the best treatment? How clearly are the options presented? How well does the healthcare company help you understand options and get treatment if necessary?
Privacy: Are all treatments sent in discreet packaging? Will your data be stored securely? Could your data ever be shared without your permission?
Speed: How fast will you receive your treatment from the moment you click “buy?” Are doctors and medical professionals responsive to your questions and needs when you are messaging them? Are the waiting times stated by the telemedicine provider accurate and consistent?