Websites offering advice from physicians operate in various ways, but usually the patient provides information about an illness or medical condition by phone or e-mail. The doctor then consults live or issues a report in e-mail or on a flash drive that is mailed to the patient's home. Some websites charge for medical advice. Other sites give free, individualized medical advice from doctors but may provide archived written advice that was provided to patients in previous identical or similar cases.
Some sites accept health-insurance plans, others charge a fee that is not covered by health insurance, and some online-doctor sites provide free advice at least for an initial consultation. Some medical doctor websites prescribe medications, sometimes for up to 30 days, but recommend a follow-up, in-person visit to a prescribing medical practitioner for future prescriptions. Online physicians may also issue short-term maintenance prescriptions in case of a change of doctors or health-insurance plans.
Instead of patients submitting questions in e-mail or a Web submission form, some sites ask patients to telephone affiliated doctors, including specialists. Whatever advice visitors take from online doctors, they should not be used for emergency situations or to replace a user's primary-care medical practitioner.
Also, it is important make sure the source of medical information online is reliable, credible and secure. A good way to check on the reliability of a website is to check information in the About Us section of the homepage. If there is no About Us section naming the producers of the website, proceed with caution and skepticism. A reliable medical doctor website features board-certified physicians. In addition, a reliable site's advisory board consists of physicians and other health practitioners.