As you travel to your destination this holiday season, you may be bringing bags filled with presents — as well as runny noses, colds, flus, extra stress and high emotions. And there’s a good chance that you’ll see your primary-care doctor or psychologist before the year is out.
But going to the doctor can be a hassle.
You have to set up the appointment (good luck with that if you’re a new patient), take time off from work, battle traffic and parking to get to the doctor’s office and hope that your appointment will start on time.
This week, I tried an alternative: Doctor on Demand. This browser-based service and app let you see a doctor — a real, board-certified MD or PhD — using video visits. It works like this: Open the app or website, search for an appointment by doctor or times available, and start your video visit right when it’s supposed to begin.
Doctor on Demand launched a year ago with physicians and pediatricians. Last week, it added psychologists and lactation consultants to its lineup and updated its app for iOS and Android. I focused my review on these new offerings.
Consultations with physicians cost $40 for 15 minutes, though most patients are diagnosed in about 11 minutes, according to the company’s chief medical officer, Dr. Pat Basu. Psychologists cost $50 for 25 minutes or $95 for 50 minutes, and lactation consultants cost $40 for 25 minutes or $70 for 50 minutes. Doctor on Demand doesn’t currently accept insurance, but it’s working on this for the future.
To test this service, I met with a psychologist, from the comfort of my office.
The result? Though I went into my video-visit appointment with a bit of skepticism, I was surprisingly pleased with Doctor on Demand’s ease of use and simplicity. Its technology got out of the way so I could easily engage with my doctor, and psychology seems like an especially good fit for this virtual setup. Though being in the same room with a doctor would be ideal, after a few minutes of chatting, I didn’t think about the means by which I was meeting with my doctor. It just worked.
Best of all, I could stay in a familiar place, and didn’t have to take more time out of my day to get to and from the appointment.
On the downside, Doctor on Demand is so convenient that it can feel a little like a drive-by appointment — done in a flash. I made the mistake of scheduling my appointment in between two other meetings, which was great from a convenience standpoint, but didn’t give me time to really digest what we discussed. (This is a lot less of an issue with physician appointments where people want a quick diagnosis so they can move on with their days.)
Another downside is that, as much as you like your physician or psychologist, you’ll never be able to see him or her in person, because Doctor on Demand is limited to video visits. Especially in the case of psychology, it would be nice to supplement video appointments with a few in-person appointments throughout the year.
And you can’t use this service to text or email for quick nibbles of medical advice like some other services that my colleague Lauren Goode reviewed.
Before my appointment, I walked through setting up a Doctor on Demand account. I answered basic questions about my medical history; psychology visits require filling out two more short forms about depression and anxiety. A payment method is also required.
All of this data is kept private by Doctor on Demand, since the service is compliant with HIPAA (the American Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act); the same is true for anything you discuss with your doctor.
You can select an option in Doctor on Demand to “See a Medical Doctor Now,” but if doctors aren’t available right at that moment, you’ll have to schedule an appointment. I browsed through photos and bios of doctors and lactation consultants — a nice touch for people who want to know everything about a doctor before an appointment. Or if your issue is more urgent, you can search for a day and time that fits.
An alarm went off on my phone just before the appointment was about to start, and right at 11 am, the doctor and I started our 25-minute session. Toward the end, since I was still chatting, the doctor hit a button on his end to extend the appointment by five minutes. Likewise, if he had a time slot available after our appointment and it seemed like I still had a lot to discuss, he could offer to start an additional session — including the additional fee. This is similar to an in-person psychology appointment.
During your appointment, you can select a button in the app that lets you share still photos from your phone’s camera. This is intended primarily for appointments with physicians and could be helpful to show something like a photo of an ankle rash — much easier than angling the live video feed to look at your ankle.
Doctor on Demand’s board-certified lactation consultants advise mothers on issues ranging from plugged milk ducts and milk production to returning to work. They can also give advice on issues related to the baby, like weight gain, weaning and teething.
After an appointment using Doctor on Demand, you’re asked to rate your experience, and can opt to save your doctor to your list of favorite providers.
Ideally, we would all be able to see our doctors in person right when we needed them. Since we all know how difficult that can be, Doctor on Demand is a helpful alternative. Especially in the case of appointments with psychologists, the comfort and convenience of using Doctor on Demand from home give it broad appeal.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.