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Can an Online Doctor Write a Prescription?

Can an Online Doctor Write a Prescription?

In the world of Lyft, Uber and on-demand everything, it's not surprising that consumers are turning to online doctors for their medications.

Online doctors like PlushCare, enable patients to:

  1. Speak with a doctor from mobile app or computer
  2. Get diagnosed
  3. Get prescribed medication for pickup at a local pharmacy

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So-called telehealth platforms offer a more streamlined process to receive diagnoses and prescription medications for common illnesses and injuries, from online doctors.

In general, online doctors can write 90-day prescriptions for any medicine approved by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Such medications include:

They can also prescribe refills on your existing medications.

Online doctors electronically send prescriptions to all pharmacies, everywhere, allowing for greater comfort and convenience.

What Other Prescriptions Can Online Doctors Write?

The most common types of conditions online doctors write prescriptions for are:

Primary Care Conditions:

Urgent Care (non-emergency) Conditions:

Online Doctors cannot currently prescribe controlled substances, including:

  • Medicinal marijuana
  • Antipsychotic medications such as Zyprexa, Risperdol
  • Stimulants, including Adderall and Ritalin
  • Narcotics, like morphine, oxycodone, and Vicodin
  • Sedatives and sleep aids, including Xanax, Ambien, Ativan, and Lunesta

To maintain safety when prescribing online, online doctors will:

  • Determine all your current medical conditions, including your drug history and current prescriptions as well as over-the-counter medications.
  • Identify what’s causing your current condition and perform a thorough examination of your health.
  • Make sure that your condition presents enough justification to actually prescribe medication.
  • Rule out the possibility of any contraindications, which refer to any situation where the medication may actually cause harm to the patient, either based on personal health or interactions with other medications.

Keeping patients safe is a doctor’s responsibility. They should be able to fully explain the prescription process and give you reasons for choosing a certain medication over others.

Improper use of prescription drugs or an incorrect dose can be disastrous to a patient’s health. Thankfully, doctors, both on and offline are required to take a variety of precautions for proper usage to ensure the safety and wellbeing of patients.

The Prescription Process

Once you have been diagnosed and treated by a doctor, you may be prescribed medication for continued treatment or symptom management. The process for receiving prescriptions is generally the same whether you see a doctor in person or speak to one online.

1. The doctor writes you a prescription. In-person, this can mean a handwritten prescription or a digital prescription sent directly to a pharmacy. Prescriptions can be sent to a retail pharmacy, mail-order pharmacy, or pharmacy inside your doctor’s office. Online doctors only have the digital option and will send the prescription to the pharmacy of your choice.

2. When your pharmacist or pharmacy benefits manager—the company that manages insurance coverage for any medication—receives the prescription, they will check to make sure the medicine your doctor prescribed is actually covered under your insurance plan.

3. Depending on your insurance and personal situation, you, your pharmacist and/or your health insurer will do one of the following to make sure you receive your medication:

  • You make a co-payment as outlined by your health insurance plan. This is a fixed amount which routinely pays for a medication. For example, you pay $5 for generic drugs or $20 for any brand-name drug.
  • You pay a co-insurance, which is a percentage of the medicine’s total cost. This would mean for example, if your co-insurance rate is set to 20%, and your medication costs $100, you will need to pay $20.
  • In some states, your pharmacist can by themselves provide you with the generic drug (which is simply the same medication but not made a branded pharma company) in place of the branded medication mentioned by the doctor. This provides you the same benefit at a more affordable price.
  • Your insurer suggests a different medication to try. It may not be the doctors preferred medication, however in this situation you will need to try it, and you have to fail with this medication before your insurance company will pay for the medicine your doctor originally prescribed.

4. Your pharmacist will then tell you what medication you can have and how much you will have to pay for it. Based on your doctor’s recommendation, costs, and other personal factors, you can now decide what medication to use. It’s a good idea to consult with your doctor to determine what medication would be most effective for your health while staying within your budget.

5. Once you make your decision, you can pick your medication up at your pharmacy. Some doctors and pharmacists offer the option of having the medication mailed to your home. Some pharmacists will not know how much you’re supposed to pay until they actually charge you at the register. That is because they have to process your medication through your insurance.

The Online Doctor Process


While specifics differ from doctor to doctor, most online doctor visits follow the same basic process. It starts with making an appointment, which can include registering or making an account.

From there, your doctor contacts you for a one-on-one video chat or phone call. Video chat appointments not only help to make you more comfortable, but also give your online doctor a more accurate understanding of your symptoms.

During your visit, you can talk to your doctor about what’s bothering you, ask any questions, and essentially treat the experience as you would any other doctor’s visit. But instead of taking hours out of your day to go to the doctor, online consultations typically take just 15 minutes or less. You may even find a doctor available immediately.

At the end of this consultation, your online doctor will diagnose your condition and provide you with a personalized treatment plan, which may include any necessary online prescription medications. If you do require a prescription, your online doctor will send it electronically to a pharmacy of your choosing, where you can pick it up at your convenience.

How Do Online Doctors Write Prescriptions?

Any online doctor who is licensed in your state can write you prescriptions just like any doctor you might talk to in person.

PlushCare doctors are experienced and have received training from some of the top medical institutions in the United States, including Stanford, Harvard, UCSF, and UCLA.

State regulations and laws surrounding online doctors and telehealth are constantly changing, so call our patient services phone number if you have any questions at 800-221-5140.

Thankfully, the Federation of State Medical Boards and other non-profit organizations continue to endorse regulations and national policies that will support prescriptions from online doctors as long as certain technical and medical criteria are met.

PlushCare proudly operates in all 50 states.

Read More of Our Online Doctor Series:

Get Prescribed Online:

Book an appointment today (or anytime, bookings are available 24/7, so we'll leave it up to you) and see how fast, convenient and affordable online prescriptions are!

PlushCare takes content accuracy seriously so that we can be your trusted source of medical information. Most articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.D.s, NPs, or NDs. Click here to meet the healthcare professionals behind the blog.

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Dr. Umer Khan

Dr. Umer Khan

Medically reviewed by Dr Umer Khan, MD who is a Board Certified physician practicing in Pennsylvania. His special interests include wellness, longevity and medical IT.

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