COVID-19 is practically all anyone can think about right now. And if you’re not feeling well, your first thought is probably whether you should contact your doctor or head to urgent care.
But our health care providers are overwhelmed. And spending time in a doctor’s office or ER, surrounded by other people—especially those who may be sick with COVID-19 or even something else—is not healthy for anyone.
We all need to do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19, and help keep doctors and health care resources focused on the people who need it most, says Shannon Sovndal, MD, a board-certified emergency medicine physician based in Boulder, CO.
So before you call your doctor or urgent care, check your symptoms with Buoy. (If it’s a medical emergency, including having trouble breathing, call 911.)
After you answer a series of questions about your illness, Buoy will share options for next steps based on your symptoms and other risk factors. (Buoy is updated daily to reflect the CDC's guidance for COVID-19.) It will also take into account the severity of your illness and likelihood of complications. Buoy will offer suggestions for what to do next, including being directed to use telehealth, head to the ER, or call 911. And if you want to get tested, you’ll need a doctor’s note. Telehealth is good way to get approval for testing.
What is telehealth?
Telehealth (also called telemed) is a virtual doctor's visit using your computer or phone. Telehealth allows you to talk to a real doctor—they can be located anywhere—about your symptoms any time, any day, without having to leave home. Simply log on to a portal or app and video chat or text with a licensed healthcare professional.
Why telehealth for COVID-19
Telehealth minimizes your contact with other people, including healthcare staff and possibly sick people in the waiting room. This is particularly important during an outbreak like COVID-19, which can be very contagious.
If you are feeling sick (especially with symptoms of cough, fever, or shortness of breath), it’s important to understand your risk for COVID-19 so you can get tested (if available) and possibly self-isolate. Self-isolation (also known as self- or home-quarantine) means avoiding contact with other people, even family members. Self-isolation reduces the spread of COVID-19.
Buoy will help you decide next steps based on many factors, including symptoms, age, and who you’ve been in contact with. If there’s a chance you have COVID-19 but your symptoms aren’t severe enough to go to the ER or call 911, then a consult through telehealth may be one of the recommendations.
How to use
Most insurance plans include virtual visits through telehealth. These could be with your primary care physician or another in-network doctor.
If your insurance doesn’t offer a telehealth option or you don’t have health insurance, plenty of other telehealth services are still available, like CirrusMD and PlushCare.
Dr. Sovndal suggests looking for an established company with a good reputation. Be sure to check online reviews and credentials (type of medical training, area of specialty, etc.) for the medical professionals you’d be speaking with.
Telehealth platforms are easy to use. Generally, you log on to the website or download the app and set up an account. Next, choose a time. Your appointment will be via video chat or text.
What you need to know
If the telehealth company takes insurance, have your information ready to input. If not, you can pay with a credit card, debit card, or, in some cases, HSA card.
Before your appointment, write down your symptoms, any medications you’re taking, and key details about your medical history. This way, you won’t forget anything important.
The cost of a virtual doctor’s appointment depends on both your insurance plan and whether the platform accepts your insurance. If virtual visits are covered, it’s likely to be a similar copay as a primary care visit. Many plans are waiving fees—and Medicare is allowing certain telehealth—during the COVID-19 pandemic. Check with your insurance carrier for the latest updates.
If you don't have insurance or the provider doesn't accept your plan, a visit is usually around $55 to $75, though rates vary. Check all costs on the platform before confirming your appointment.
The scientific understanding of COVID-19 as well as guidelines for its prevention and treatment are constantly changing. There may be new information since this article was published. It’s important to check with sources like the CDC for the most up-to-date information.