Are Online Doctors the New Norm?

Posted on September 23, 2021

If you're like many Canadians, the word "2020" leaves a bad taste on your mouth. In fact, it may very well sound like the understatement of the year.

Workplaces were shut down. Restaurants were closed. Schools were in session, out of session, all online, and back in-person with all the smoothness and subtlety of a whip. Plain and simple, it was a lot.

And now, with more and more people working from home, finding the time to leave home, drive to the nearest clinic, and wait for an appointment with the doctor seems completely unrealistic. So to the surprise of no one, online doctors became insanely popular. And, depending on who you ask, these virtual visits may very well be here to stay.

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What Are the Benefits of Using An Online Doctor?

We've just talked about the fact that people are pressed for time these days. And we also talked about how finding things to do at home and practicing social distancing look like norms that are expected to stick around for the long haul even after the pandemic is ancient news.

But by our count, there are at least two major reasons why online doctor visits are becoming a go-to option for Canadians in search of primary care.

Stay in the Comfort of Your Home

Most of us have a lot going on even in the best of times. After a full day of looking after the kids, slogging through work, and updating the execs on the progress that's been made on the deliverables, the last thing that anyone wants to do is get into the car and brave the cold winters that Canada is known for when you're dealing with a relatively minor ailment.

Being able to book and attend an online walk-in meeting, means that you can skip all of the time-sucking parts of seeing a doctor and jump straight into finding solutions. As long as you have a working internet connection, you don't have to step a foot outside in order to get a prescription for that nagging cough or that untreated sore.

Skip the Waiting Rooms

When you're feeling under the weather but not sick enough for the ER, it often feels like you're stuck with two choices:

You can sit and wait in a room full of strangers you don't know with varying degrees of infectiousness.

Or, you can try to power through your illness until you're sick enough to be the person that other folks in the waiting room are wondering about.

And even when you set aside the very real "Should I risk this?" calculation that goes into the waiting room, there's also the simple fact that the waiting room game can be a serious schedule disruptor. Even if your plans are basically a mental checklist that looks like cooking, doing chores, and getting tasks done so that your weekend is relatively free, that waiting room trip could very well throw off your whole week.

On their own, these are both convincing reasons to say "Hm. I'll have to look into this." when it comes to exploring the idea of going to a virtual clinic. But taken together, it's a powerful one-two punch for many Canadians who want to speak to a doctor in a more convenient way.

How Much Does An Online Doctor Cost?

If you saw those benefits and felt yourself perking up, of course, it's only natural that you'd eventually start to ask yourself the question:

How would seeing an online doctor affect my wallet?

With Maple, your online doctor visit could cost you anywhere from $49 for a weekday visit between 7 am and midnight to $79 for weekends and $99 for overnight visits.

And of course, you might be looking at that and thinking that it's not a bad payoff in exchange for seeing a doctor on short notice.

However, imagine a situation where you're seeking a medical opinion on a slightly more serious issue than a standard worse-than-usual cold. Maybe you've been hit with a bad acne flare-up and you need to see a dermatologist because every treatment you can get your hands on is only making things worse, or perhaps you've got an ongoing thyroid issue and you're more comfortable consulting with an endocrinologist.

It would cost around $220 for diagnosis and $110 for a follow-up.

In short, seeing a doctor online can be very convenient. And the good news for Canadians is that the cost of a standard weekday visit after normal work hours isn't too much to pay upfront through apps like Maple.

Are there Membership Fees?

If after thinking this over, virtual doctor's visits are an option that you could see yourself using on a regular basis, membership fees are a surprisingly solid way to cover your monthly costs.

For instance, Maple has two plans. First, there's a personal membership that charges $30/month for up to 30 annual visits. And then second, Maple also offers family plans that allow for 50 annual visits for the family.

There are no time limits on your virtual visit so you don't have to worry about being rushed out the door while you're still explaining your medical issue. And you can also get the benefit of keeping all of your medical records in one place.

In addition, if you can see yourself wanting to speak to a specialist here and there, you can also purchase credit packages upfront to make ongoing specialist costs a little bit less expensive when the time comes. Available in $100, $200, and $500-credit bundles, the more minutes you buy, the more savings you can get.

However, if you're like most Canadians who are used to accessing the walk-in clinic for free as long as you have a provincial health card, you may be feeling a little weird about having to pay to speak to a doctor at all. And if you're on a tight budget, dipping into your savings to see an online doctor in Canada might not be realistic.

Payment Option #1: Your Provincial Health Care Plan

According to virtualclinics.ca, some people may be able to access telemedicine for free under their provincial plan. Alberta, Ontario, and British Columbia do offer coverage for telehealth services while other provinces don't as of yet.

However, even if you're not covered by your provincial health plan, you're not necessarily stuck with footing the total bill for your telehealth visit.

Payment Option #2: Private Health Insurance

If you're self-employed or if you have healthcare coverage through your employer, you may be able to access telehealth services. After, you can then get reimbursed through your insurance provider.

What Types of Services Do Online Doctors Provide?

As a general rule of thumb, when clinics or doctors say that they offer telehealth services, the service will come in one of these three forms. It's important to know what you're signing up for beforehand.

1. Store-and-Forward Telemedicine

Picture this.

You've got a weird mole or a medical condition that needs to be monitored. But instead of having to get your x-rays, testing, and imaging done only to come back in again to discuss your results with your doctor, your information gets forwarded to the doctor who then connects with you over the phone.

For obvious reasons, it's not unusual to see certain specialties, like dermatologists or radiologists, use this approach. And simply because lighting and camera quality can all interfere with the appearance of a physical skin condition, for example, it can be harder to pin down an initial diagnosis while using this approach.

However, for people who are trying to sort out their health and exploring possibilities, there's no beating the convenience of being able to store and document issues that your online doctor can then go through and figure out.

2. Self-Testing

Do you know how in movies you can often see the needle bouncing while someone's vitals are being monitored in the hospital? With self-testing, you can use different devices to keep track of your general health and clinical wellbeing without having to visit the doctor in person.

When the pandemic was at its height, Health Canada gave some people the option of using self-testing tech to keep track of their infections. If you've got a chronic condition, this telemedicine service allows you to keep track of your clinical signs while also giving your physician more information about what your body is doing.

3. Real-Time Virtual Visits

This is the type of telemedicine service that you receive when you book an appointment through Maple or a similar service. These can be done online or over the phone and like the name says, these are appointments where you're speaking with your healthcare provider directly and having discussions that feel similar to a standard walk-in appointment at a clinic but just without the traditional face-to-face interaction.

While that sums up the broader services that fall under the telemedicine umbrella, there's another distinction that's important for you to know as a patient: Telemedicine, or telehealth, refers to the general process of treating and diagnosing medical conditions remotely while virtual visits are the actual appointments that are set with your healthcare provider.

How Do I Know to Choose the Right Online Doctor?

The whole question of how to get the most out of your Maple visit is one that we've talked about before at Insurdinary. In fact, we have a whole article on how to get the most out of seeing a doctor online.

Believe it or not, however, Maple isn't the only game in town when it comes to virtual care. There are insurance-partnered options like Dialogue. And there are services like Maple that allow you to find answers for any questions you may want to ask a doctor online include:

1. Tia Health

Free for residents of Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta, this service offers lab work, blood tests, and delivered prescriptions over video or phone. With a lineup of specialists that includes dermatologists, pediatricians, and psychiatrists, Tia Health is an affordable option for Canadians. 

2. Get Well Clinic

This service offers both browser and mobile app-based services for benefits that include file transfers, private messaging, and video chats hosted on the clinic's custom servers. With a service list that includes weight management and online therapy sessions, Get Well Clinic's combination of online and offline service offerings is ideal for Canadians who are working out with an eye towards general wellness. 

3. Virtual Clinics

This platform is free for Albertans, Ontarians, and British Columbians with appointments in other provinces starting at $30. Virtual Clinics patients can not only potentially see their family doctors through the service, but they can also receive free prescription and renewal delivery throughout Canada.

Visit virtualclinics.ca to find out more. 

4. OTN

The Ontario Telemedicine Network, known as OTN for short, is less of a service provider and more of a platform that helps Ontario-based patients and doctors connect. To that end, OTN has secured indigenous partnerships as well as provincial and federal partnerships.

5. Appletree

This clinic provides an extensive list of services through its virtual care branch for patients over the age of four. Alongside prescription renewals, weight loss management plans, and over 30 different specialists, Appletree also lets patients choose between virtual care and telemedicine.

You can visit appletreemedicalgroup.com to find out more.

6. GOeVisit

For just $10 a month for unlimited visits, GOeVisit users can access medical care on the go. With virtual appointments, prescriptions, and treatment plans all available through either the browser-based app or the mobile app, this service offers Canadians another option.

7. Rocket Doctor

With an incorporation date of March 2020, Rocket Doctor is a new service that offers Canadians in Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta access to University of Calgary and University of Toronto-trained doctors. Currently expanding its reach into the U.S., Rocket Doctor provides video appointments, online prescriptions, and at-home health monitoring to patients.

What About Online Care for Mental Health?

In a post-pandemic world that has seen many people experience job loss, family deaths, and loss of closeness in friendships, it's safe to say that more people are dealing with negative feelings and mental health struggles than ever.

We talk elsewhere about the importance of finding mental health professionals who can give you guidance and help you find the treatment you need. Although there may be some restrictions around ADHD treatments, Maple has psychiatrists, mental health doctors, and life coaches available for Canadians to connect with for an online call.

Online Doctors Could Be Your Secret to Better Health

When you're faced with a choice between falling behind on your weekly to-do list and powering through that cough, it's all too easy to make a habit of skipping the walk-in clinic until the day that you wake up and you're struggling to get out of bed.

Because online doctors are available through apps like Maple, however, you now have a third option. You can pursue treatment directly from the comfort of home.

Want to learn more? Be sure to check out the Insurdinary blog.

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