Get Ready to See Your Doctor Virtually

Having a cold is miserable, but getting medical attention for it doesn’t have to be. Virtual urgent care—seeing a doctor via your smart phone or computer from the comfort of your home or office—is increasingly popular and makes it easier to see a doctor when you’re not feeling well. Not sure what to expect? Viraj Lakdawala, MD, medical director of NYU Langone Health’s Virtual Urgent Care program, explains how it works and how to prepare for your virtual visit.

Virtual urgent care, also called “telehealth,” lets you see a doctor when it’s not easy to go in person. 

The combination of winter colds and weather can make traveling to a doctor’s office difficult. Then there’s the added stress of taking time off work to sit in a waiting room or finding last-minute childcare. Virtual urgent care is a great alternative when you just can’t get to an in-person visit. Some services have extended hours before and after the usual 9-to-5 workday, so you can usually schedule an appointment for the same day.

Virtual urgent care treats a variety of non-emergency issues. 

Cough, runny nose, sore throat, pink eye, rash—these are the symptoms you would bring to an urgent care facility or to your own primary care physician, and virtual care can handle them all. Many diagnoses require a simple history and visual physical exam to create a treatment plan, which can be done through telehealth. 

If the telehealth program is affiliated with your doctor’s practice or health system, the urgent care staff may be able to access previous imaging and bloodwork results to get a broader picture of your health. This also helps them safely prescribe the best medications for you. 

There are some minor complaints that are difficult to treat virtually.  

For example, earaches, lower abdominal pain, and genital issues need an in-person evaluation. Patients sometimes expect that anything can be treated through telemedicine, but that’s not always the case.

If it’s a true emergency, you should call 911 or head to the nearest emergency room. 

If you’re comfortable using apps on your smartphone or browsing the internet on your computer, then you should be fine with the technology. 

Most virtual care programs require patients to use a specific app on their smartphones or tablets, but you can also access some programs through a website on a laptop or desktop computer. Whichever service or device you use, make sure you have a working web camera, microphone, speakers, and an internet or data connection. If using your phone, set up the app now, while you’re healthy, so you don’t have to figure out a new platform when you’re feeling sick. 

Taking a photo of your symptoms or condition can help the doctor make the right diagnosis.

If you’re scheduling the appointment about a rash, bruise, or some other external condition, take a good, clear photo of it beforehand to upload and share with the doctor. It will help him or her take a closer look. 

Set yourself up for a successful appointment.

Wherever you decide to hold your appointment, home or office, make sure you’re in a well-lit room and have a good wi-fi or data connection. It’ll make it that much easier for the doctor to see, hear, and understand your symptoms. For your own privacy, try to find a quiet, non-public space where you and your doctor can talk openly about your symptoms.  As long as you feel comfortable and can communicate clearly with your doctor, you can hold your appointment almost anywhere there’s a connection. 

Many insurance plans cover telehealth visits.

Depending on the service and your insurance, the copay for VUC may be the same as an in-person urgent care visit or regular office appointment. If you don’t have insurance or don’t want to put the appointment through your plan, many programs will give you the option to pay directly.  

Telehealth takes a lot of the wait and stress out of seeing a doctor for a non-emergency issue.

If you can’t make it to an in-person appointment, don’t put off getting medical attention. Take care of yourself. 


Viraj Lakdawala, MD, is a clinical associate professor in NYU Langone’s Ronald O. Perelman Department of Emergency Medicine, medical director of virtual urgent care, and system chief of emergency medicine telehealth.