The Best Online Doctors in 2021 | Cost, Features, Reviews of the Top Telemedicine Companies
Connecting with an online doctor gives you access to non-emergency medical care anywhere, anytime. While not the answer for all medical conditions, online doctors—aka telemedicine platforms—can see patients virtually for a variety of ailments, including the common cold, flu, skin conditions, allergies, headaches, pink eye, vomiting, and more.
Most telehealth appointments are facilitated through live video visits, but sometimes doctors and patients use phone calls and messaging. While seeing an in-person doctor can provide many benefits, visiting with a doctor online can be convenient, less stressful, and a much more accessible option for people in remote areas.
Health researched several companies to find the best online doctors. Here are the eight best telemedicine platforms, according to our editors.
Top picks for best online doctors in 2021
- Best for urgent care: MDLive
- Best for families: Health Sapiens
- Best for budget: Sesame
- Best for mental health: Online-Therapy
- Best for pediatrics: Anytime Pediatrics
- Best for monthly membership: SteadyMD
- Best for insurance: Teladoc
- Best for convenience: Doctor on Demand
- Best for Spanish-speakers: LiveHealth Online
Why trust our expert review?
Our experts independently research and recommend telemedicine platforms we believe provide value in the lives of our readers. We've spent collectively more than 600 hours conducting in-depth research on services offered by doctors online. Throughout this process, we did the following:
- Engaged in ongoing independent research
- Consulted with independent physicians
- Mystery shopped the services
- Surveyed hundreds of telehealth users
- Tested various types of services
- Interviewed experts in the field
- Read thousands of verified customer reviews from trusted third parties, such as Better Business Bureau and Consumer Reports
Best for urgent care: MDLive
If you're searching for same-day appointments for urgent care needs, then MDLive may be the right option for you. This 24/7 platform offers telemedicine services for non-emergency medical conditions, behavioral health, and dermatology by secure online video, phone calls, or the MDLive app.
Minimal wait time
What makes MDLive best for urgent care is the minimal wait time. The platform gives you the option to wait and see a doctor right away or schedule an appointment for a time that works for you. You can also choose a board-certified doctor in the network to set an appointment for later.
Providers treat various medical conditions, including allergies, cold and flu, cough, ear pain, sinus problems, UTIs, rash, bites, medication refills, and more. Appointments are available for the entire family, but any doctor you see through MDLive is not meant to replace your primary care doctor. MDLive accepts several health insurance plans. Depending on your benefits and doctor visit, your copay may be your only out-of-pocket cost. You can access MDLive using a smartphone, computer, or tablet.
- $0 to $82 for urgent care visit
- $0 to $108 for behavioral health appointment
- $0 to $95 for dermatology visit
Accepts insurance: Yes
Availability: 24/7, 365 days a year
- Offers urgent care, behavioral health, and dermatology
- Board-certified doctors available 24/7
- Prescription services available
- Live chat feature for patients with hearing loss
- Does not treat sexually transmitted infections
- Does not treat urinary tract infections in males or females under 18
- Behavioral health does not treat children under the age of 10
Best for families: Health Sapiens
Finding quality, board-certified physicians is critical when choosing medical care for your family. Health Sapiens, a subscription-based telemedicine platform, provides virtual access to doctors 24/7, and, in many cases, you can be speaking with a doctor in 15 minutes after requesting an appointment.
In addition to quick service, Health Sapiens earns high praise for the household plan it offers. For $35 per month, you'll get care for yourself and up to five family members. The household plan includes video sessions, phone sessions, messaging, and prescriptions sent to your pharmacy if deemed necessary. Plus, there is no contract, and you can cancel any time. Like other online doctors, Health Sapiens physicians can treat non-emergency conditions like allergies, cold, cough, headache, sinus infection, vomiting, rash, and more.
Health Sapiens is a good option for urgent care or common conditions, but it's not appropriate for emergency or primary care. A doctor you see through Health Sapiens is not meant to replace your primary care doctor. The company also offers teletherapy by phone, video chat, or messaging. This service is extra and costs $50 per week per person. You can access Health Sapiens using a smartphone, computer, or tablet.
- Household health plan starts at $35/month
- Telehealth counseling plan $50/week
Accepts insurance: No, this is a subscription plan that does not use insurance
Availability: 24/7, 365 days a year
- Primary care and online mental health counseling
- Sessions include video, phone, and messaging
- Service provided in all states
- No contract required
- Monthly subscription fee instead of insurance
- Individual counseling only
- Counseling and health/primary care plan are separate
Best for budget: Sesame
If you're looking for the most affordable option, then Sesame might be a great choice for you. According to the company's website, patients pay an average of $30 nationwide for a 15-minute appointment with an MD, which makes Sesame the least expensive option on our list. Sesame claims patients can save up to 60% over a traditional, in-person appointment, and gives you access to top doctors across 40+ specialties. Also, the company promises medications as low as $5 with free delivery when prescribed during a Sesame visit.
No insurance required
Sesame claims that you don't need insurance for its services because it offers transparent, upfront affordable pricing. If you have health insurance, high deductibles and gaps in your coverage can often mean your plan ends up costing you more in the long run. In short, you may not need insurance to save on your visits or appointments with Sesame.
If you have an HSA or FSA, you can use that to pay for your medical visits.
- Set by doctor
Accepts insurance: Yes
Availability: 24/7 and based on doctor's availability
- First direct-to-patient care marketplace
- Offers a wide variety of services
- Save up to 60% on costs with a single, up-front payment
- Medication costs as little as $5, with free delivery
- Can cancel appointment within 24 hours with no fees or payment
- Accepts limited insurance
Best for mental health: Online-Therapy
Online-Therapy is a subscription-based online counseling platform that provides virtual counseling sessions with a licensed therapist, counselor, or psychologist. Mental health experts facilitate therapy using a variety of methods including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which is an evidence-based psychotherapy used to treat mental health conditions like phobias, depression, stress, anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, eating disorders, and insomnia.
Once you're assigned to a therapist, you'll immediately begin working on the eight sections that are part of your toolbox. These sections include worksheets that are designed to challenge your thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. Your therapist will give feedback on the worksheets and provide hands-on tools and tips to help you challenge your specific problems and begin to think in a different way.
The basic plan does not have live sessions. For $40 per week, you get the self-paced worksheets with daily feedback. If you want live sessions, you'll need to upgrade to the standard plan, which includes one live session per week at $60 per week, or the premium plan, which comes with two live sessions a week for $80 per week. You can access Online-Therapy using a smartphone, computer, or tablet.
- $40/week for basic plan
- $60/week for standard plan
- $80/week for premium
Accepts insurance: No
Availability: Staff (customer service) is online 24/7, but therapists' schedules vary
- Evidence-based treatment with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Treatment includes meditation and yoga
- Simple process to switch therapists
- Services for adults only
- Basic plan does not offer live sessions
- Individual therapy only
- Might not be a good fit if you want a variety of treatment modalities
Best for pediatrics: Anytime Pediatrics
Anytime Pediatrics is a telemedicine platform that connects parents and caregivers with experienced online board-certified pediatricians. While not a replacement for a primary care doctor or in-person pediatrician, Anytime Pediatrics allows you to get answers and care for your child for non-emergency medical issues like allergies, pink eye, cuts and abrasions, insect bites, cough, colds, diarrhea, vomiting, and more.
Control over care
With Anytime Pediatrics, you have some control over who cares for your child. If your current pediatrician is part of the network, you may be able to see them through a virtual visit. Otherwise, you will be connected to another trusted board-certified pediatrician in your area.
Visits are always video-based so that the doctor can see your child. The doctor can prescribe medication, if needed, and provide health-related information to your child's school. Anytime Pediatrics is available for children from birth to 21 years of age. If you have insurance, the pediatrician you see is responsible for billing the insurance company. Otherwise, you can elect for a private pay option. You can access Anytime Pediatrics using a smartphone, computer, or tablet.
Cost: Set by pediatrician
Accepts insurance: Yes, but insurance claims are submitted through pediatrician
Availability: Hours and days depend on the pediatrician
- Treats children of all ages, up to 21 years old
- May be able to see your current pediatrician
- Visits are all video-based
- Pediatricians not available at all hours
- Not appropriate for moderate to serious conditions
- Using health insurance is a bit cumbersome
Best for monthly membership: SteadyMD
Paying one fee per month frees up time, eliminates confusion, and helps you budget. With SteadyMD, you'll choose the subscription plan that fits your needs and only pay once per month. SteadyMD is similar to a concierge service but more affordable and convenient. Once you're partnered with a board-certified doctor, you'll have an initial comprehensive appointment to cover your health and medical history and develop a plan. This video visit lasts about an hour. After this appointment, you have access to your doctor via text, phone, or video chat.
While you can securely text the doctor anytime, virtual video or phone visits need to be scheduled. If your doctor recommends bloodwork, imaging, or labs, they will refer you to Quest, LabCorp, or another facility and review the results with you at a later appointment. Any doctor you see through SteadyMD is not meant to replace your primary care doctor.
Both individual and family plans are available. The only caveat is SteadyMD is an annual membership. You will need to commit to a 12-month membership, but the company offers cancellation within the first 30 days and will only bill you for that month. SteadyMD also offers a functional medicine plan, which pairs you with a functional medicine doctor. This subscription plan is in addition to the individual or family plan and costs $199 per month. You can access SteadyMD using a smartphone, computer, or tablet.
- $99/month for individual plan
- $178/month for family plan
- $199/month for functional medicine plan
Accepts insurance: No
Availability: Depends on the doctor, but unlimited texting and same-day phone and video chat is available
- Available in all 50 states
- Individual and family plans available
- Allows cancellation of plan within first month
- Requires an annual membership after first month
- More expensive than some subscription plans
Best for insurance: Teladoc
If convenience, flexibility, and low rates top your list of priorities, then Teladoc is a telemedicine platform worth considering. Teladoc accepts many major insurance providers, and some employers provide this benefit to employees. In some cases, this brings your cost per visit down to $0. If out-of-pocket costs are required, you can use an HSA or FSA plan. Plus, you may be eligible for coverage if you have certain Medicare or Medicaid plans. Otherwise, general medical visits are $75 per visit.
The Teladoc board-certified physicians can treat general medical conditions in adults and children. The company provides 24/7 care for non-emergency conditions like cold, flu, allergies, respiratory infections, pink eye, rashes, vomiting, and more.
You also have access to appointments for dermatology, mental health, nutrition, neck and back care, and sexual health services. Make sure to check prices for these services since they are different from the general medical visit fee. If you want to work with the same doctor each time, you can use Teladoc for primary care through the Primary360 program. You can access Teladoc using a smartphone, computer, or tablet.
- As low as $0 with insurance
- $75 per general medicine visit without insurance
Accepts insurance: Yes
Availability: 24/7 and based on doctor's availability
- Accepts several major insurance plans
- Care visits are longer than other platforms
- Provides care for a variety of conditions
- May be more expensive than other platforms unless you have insurance
- Doctors may be difficult to contact
- Pricing can be tricky to figure out
Best for convenience: Doctor on Demand
Doctor on Demand provides easy access to a board-certified doctor on your time. This gives you the convenience of seeing a doctor for a non-emergency condition when it works for you. Plus, with virtual visits, you can talk to your doctor at home, in your car (while parked!), at work, or anywhere you can get an internet connection.
Urgent and chronic care
With Doctor on Demand, you can receive care for a variety of conditions including short-term ailments like coughs, colds, and flu to more chronic conditions that require ongoing monitoring. The company provides services related to urgent care, preventative health, behavioral health, and chronic care. Medical sessions cost $75 for a 15-minute consultation, which is slightly more than other telemedicine platforms. Doctor on Demand accepts a wide range of insurance plans, so make sure to check your benefits. Any doctor you see through Doctor on Demand is not meant to replace your primary care doctor.
Behavioral health is more expensive than urgent and primary care, with psychiatrist visits starting at $299 for an initial consultation and $129 for each follow-up visit. Counseling sessions with a psychologist are cheaper and average $129 to $179, depending on the session. You can access Doctor on Demand using a smartphone, computer, or tablet.
- $75 per medical consultation
- $129 to $179 for a behavioral health appointment
- $299 for a psychiatrist visit
Accepts insurance: Yes
Availability: 24/7, 365 days a year
- Accepts many health plans
- Offers medical care and behavioral health
- No subscription fees, pay per visit
- Long-term primary care
- Additional session billed if you go over 15 minutes
- Behavioral health and psychiatry visits are expensive
- Video sessions only, no phone consultations
Best for Spanish-speakers: LiveHealth Online
LiveHealth Online is our pick for best budget telemedicine provider, but it also takes the top spot for Spanish-speaking patients. With a per-session price of $59, this telemedicine platform offers one of the lowest rates online. And if you have insurance, this fee may be significantly less.
The company has several Spanish-speaking board-certified physicians available 24/7, and the LiveHealth Online website and app are available in English and Spanish.
You can see a doctor for various conditions, including headache, cold and fever, allergies, sore throat, flu, and skin infections. In addition to medical care, LiveHealth Online has psychology and psychiatric services as well as allergists on staff.
Virtual visits are video-based and last about 15 minutes. Appointments are available for children and adults. However, allergy, psychology, and psychiatry visits are separate from general medical appointments. Additionally, psychology and psychiatry appointments may cost more than medical or allergy visits. Any doctor you see through LiveHealth Online is not meant to replace your primary care doctor. You can access LiveHealth Online using a smartphone, computer, or tablet.
- $59 per medical session
- Insurance benefits may lower the cost
Accepts insurance: Yes
- Offers medical, allergy, psychiatry, and psychology appointments
- Spanish-speaking doctors and LiveHealth Online available in Spanish
- Available for adults and kids
- Affordable per-session fee
- Typical video visit is only 10 to 15 minutes
- Doctors cannot prescribe certain medications
- Might not be a good choice for more involved health conditions
How do online doctor visits work?
Telemedicine or an online doctor visit is a way to access a board-certified doctor or another health care professional remotely. Depending on the platform, visits are often facilitated through live video sessions and sometimes phone calls. Some plans also offer messaging services between sessions.
Most telehealth providers have a simple sign-up process online that allows you to identify why you need to be seen and when you want an appointment. Some platforms offer same-day visits, while others require an appointment.
You'll connect with the provider via video or phone and conduct a visit like you would at an in-person doctor's office. At the conclusion of this appointment, the doctor may recommend other testing, write a prescription, or request that you make another appointment.
When should you use an online doctor?
Online medical care is appropriate for several non-emergency situations. Some conditions that online doctors treat include colds, flu, minor respiratory issues, headaches, allergies, diarrhea, vomiting, urinary tract infections, skin infections and rashes, sinus infections, and eye conditions like pink eye.
Serious conditions or those that may require a hands-on physical exam, X-ray, MRI, or other scan are better treated with an in-person doctor visit.
Medical emergencies should always be treated in person. This includes the following:
- Head injuries
- Orthopedic issues like broken bones or sprains
- Allergic reactions
- Heart attack symptoms
- Heavy bleeding
- Suicidal ideation or attempts
- Severe mental health conditions
- Substance use disorder
Remember, a telemedicine provider is not intended to replace your primary care doctor.
Benefits of remote doctor visits
CEO of Experity, David Stern, MD in Illinois, says remote visits eliminate exposure to other sick people, which is especially appealing when a person is not feeling well in the first place. "Telemedicine provides convenience and removes the aggravation of traveling to the clinic, which takes time away from work and family," he tells Health.
According to Dr. Stern, telemedicine makes health care accessible where it's usually limited, like in rural or underserved areas. "This technology not only allows patients to see a trusted physician but also can be used to expand their care team to include specialists when needed," says Dr. Stern.
Brian Wayling, executive director of Intermountain Healthcare Teleservices in Utah, points out that online doctors are also able to make some home environment observations, which can be helpful.
Can online doctors prescribe medication?
Yes, most online doctors will prescribe medications if your condition requires one. That said, there are some medications doctors will not prescribe during a virtual visit. Each platform and provider is different, so it's best to contact the company directly to ask about prescriptions.
Most websites list the medications doctors will not prescribe, including controlled substances like narcotic pain relievers. Some telemedicine providers will mail prescriptions to your home, but most send the prescription to a local pharmacy. Prescription costs are typically not part of the visit charge or subscription fee. You are responsible for any costs associated with prescription medications.
How we chose our top picks
Health editors examined 14 telemedicine platforms, eliminating companies that were too specialized or limited in services, and selected eight as top choices.
We evaluated each telehealth service for their quality of patient care, range of services offered, accessibility and convenience, cost and insurance coverage, and customer satisfaction.
The companies that didn't make the cut include Amwell, Lemonaid, Plush Care, Hims, Just Answer, and Maven.
Virtual medical appointments are available for a variety of conditions and through several online platforms. Therefore, deciding which online doctor is right for you comes down to different factors, including but not limited to:
- Delivery method
- Provider choice
- Urgent vs. primary care
- Age limitations
If access to same-day appointments is important, then MDLive is an excellent option. For families with children, Anytime Pediatrics is worth considering. But if mental health needs top your list, Online-Therapy may be the best fit, especially since behavioral and mental health is the platform's priority. Finally, if a subscription plan can help with budget planning, Health Sapiens offers some of the best services at an affordable monthly cost.
Frequently asked questions
What is the best online doctor?
The best online doctor is board-certified and has specialty training in the area you're seeking care in. Beyond credentials and qualifications, defining what is best comes down to personal preference. For example, cost and availability are both key features when deciding who is the best online doctor.
Also, live video sessions are often the preferred delivery method for telemedicine, so make sure the doctor you choose facilitates appointments this way. Other things to consider when deciding what makes the best online doctor are conditions treated and if they provide prescription medication. If you're using telemedicine for primary care, you'll also want to ensure the doctor you choose is a good fit.
How much does an online doctor cost?
Online doctor visits are either billed per visit or offered as part of a subscription plan. In general, pay-as-you-go virtual appointments can range from $59 per visit to well over $150 without insurance. The average online medical visit is around $75. If you have insurance, some visits may be fully covered or only require a copay.
Always check your benefits before signing up for an online telemedicine platform. Subscription plans can range from as low as $35 per month for entry-level care to $150 per month for more comprehensive coverage. Additionally, mental health care is often more expensive, especially psychiatry care.
Are online doctors legit?
Board-certified physicians offering online appointments are legit. That said, it's always a good idea to verify the doctor's credentials and whether they specialize and have specialty training for the reason you are seeing them. Unfortunately, not all online doctors are reputable or offer legitimate services.
Are online doctors cheaper?
If you're paying out of pocket, an online doctor may be cheaper than an in-person office visit. However, insurance benefits may cover the majority, if not all, of an in-person appointment, but not a telemedicine appointment. That's why it's critical to contact your health insurance benefits office before scheduling an online appointment.
Can I talk to an online doctor for free?
Online doctor visits come with a cost. If a platform offers free appointments with a board-certified physician, there's a good chance it's part of a free trial, complimentary consultation, or subscription fee. Always ask for more information if a telemedicine company is advertising free appointments with a doctor.
Do online doctors work?
Board-certified doctors provide care for non-emergency medical conditions through an online platform. While some observations, tests, or treatments are just not possible if the patient isn't physically present, Brian Wayling, executive director of Intermountain Healthcare Teleservices, says it's amazing what can be observed over a high definition video call, such as observing the range of motion a patient has in an arm or shoulder. "There are many physical conditions we previously felt we had to 'feel' in person, which we have found providers can diagnose through observation just as well," Wayling tells Health.
Like in-person providers, if you feel the care you've received is not adequate, or have questions about a diagnosis, recommendation, or prescription, always ask for a second opinion.
Sara Lindberg is a mental health and fitness expert who enjoys writing about health, wellness, nutrition, parenting, and education. With a Bachelor of Science degree in exercise science and a Master of Education degree in counseling she's spent the last twenty years helping people improve both their physical and mental health. Her work has appeared in publications such as Healthline, VeryWell Health, VeryWell Fit, Livestrong, Men's Health, SheKnows, Runner's World and many more.