When to Use Virtual Doctors' Visits

You can save big compared to an in-person doctor visit or a trip to the emergency room.

closeup of a young caucasian doctor man wearing a white coat using a smartphone while is checking a chest radiograph in a tablet computer
(Image credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Question: My health plan is offering telemedicine this year. When and why should I use this service? - J.B., Chicago

Answer: Telemedicine, which offers basic health care through virtual visits with a doctor by phone or video chat, “is ideal for minor health concerns, such as bronchitis, cold and flu, bladder and urinary tract infections, fever, pinkeye, sinus problems, sore throat, and stomachache,” says Rebecca Madsen, of UnitedHealthcare (opens in new tab).

You can save a lot of money by using telemedicine, especially if you’re paying the full cost of care before reaching your deductible. The median cost of a video-based doctor’s visit is $50, compared with $80 for an office visit; $125 for a visit to an urgent care facility; and $685 for an emergency-room visit, says Madsen.

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Kimberly Lankford
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.