Person with mobile preparing for telehealth appointment to get a prescription without seeing a doctor in person

How to get a prescription without seeing a healthcare provider in person: what you need to know

Written on March 24, 2023 by Sendra Yang, PharmD, MBA. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Table of contents

What is a prescription?

In medical terms, a prescription is a written set of directions for the preparation, dispensing, or administration of a drug for a patient [1,2]. In the US, a prescription is written or electronically ordered by a physician, dentist, nurse practitioner, or a licensed healthcare provider with prescriptive authority based on a specific therapeutic area and medications.

What a prescription contains

A typical prescription contains the name of the person the prescription is for, the drug name and dose, instructions on how to use the medication, how often to use it, the duration of therapy, and how much of the drug to dispense [1,2]. The prescription must also be signed by the licensed healthcare provider ordering the prescription.

Statistics on prescriptions and drugs prescribed

It is estimated that around 49% of people used at least one prescription drug in the past 30 days in the United States [3]. The number of medicines provided or prescribed during physician office visits is approximately 1 billion, as reported in the 2019 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey [3]. Additionally, about 72% of physician office visits involve drug therapy, and the most frequently prescribed drug classes are analgesics, cholesterol-lowering medications, and vitamins.

Difference between prescription vs over-the-counter drugs

A prescription drug is a therapeutic agent prescribed by a physician or healthcare provider [4]. The prescription drug is intended to treat, cure, mitigate, or prevent disease for a specific person. Once the healthcare provider orders the prescription, it must be dispensed by a pharmacist and bought from a pharmacy.

An over-the-counter (OTC) drug is a medication that does not require a prescription from a healthcare provider [4,5]. An OTC drug can be bought in stores straight from the shelf for self-treatment or to care for your family.

Getting a prescription

To obtain a prescription, a licensed healthcare provider with prescriptive authority must write or electronically order one for you [2-4]. Based on your previous medical history, signs and symptoms, and proper testing, the clinician can diagnose you with a condition and prescribe treatment and therapy options if appropriate for you [6,7].

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Can you get a prescription without seeing a doctor?

With the advances in technology in this day and age, you can now get an online prescription virtually and without seeing a healthcare provider in person [6,7]. However, there are some limitations to what medication you can get through online prescription services or telehealth.

Option for online prescription service through telehealth

Telehealth, sometimes called telemedicine, allows your healthcare provider to care for you without an in-person office visit [6,7]. There are benefits to using telehealth services [7]. Telehealth allows virtual visits to ensure you get care where you are located, reduce travel and time off from work, and increase access to specialists farther away from your home [7,8].

You can get various types of care through telehealth services, which may include [6]:

  • Laboratory testing
  • Online therapy, counseling, and medication management for mental health
  • Care for migraines or urinary tract infections
  • Care for skin conditions
  • Remote monitoring services for chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol
  • Prescription management

Online prescription and internet prescribing are primarily regulated by states, and laws may differ on which medication can be electronically prescribed without an in-person visit or a previously established patient-provider relationship [7].

When telehealth is not appropriate

Telehealth services are not appropriate for all illnesses, and not all types of drugs may be prescribed online [6-8]. Additionally, technology does not always work perfectly, and technical difficulties may prevent or interfere with care [8]. Performing physical examinations can also be restricted online and be limited in providing information that may be helpful for clinical decisions.

Online prescription via telehealth with Everlywell

Everlywell provides access to telehealth services through Virtual Care Visits, where you can easily schedule a video call with a certified healthcare provider. You can meet with a certified clinician to discuss your symptoms, questions, and healthcare needs. Depending on your individual health needs, the clinician may develop a personalized treatment plan with you.

Via Virtual Care Visits, a one-time prescription may be available to you if it is determined appropriate for you by the healthcare provider. If a one-time prescription is recommended, the clinician will send a prescription to your preferred pharmacy. However, recurring prescriptions requiring long-term care, such as depression, anxiety, or thyroid conditions, are not supported. If your clinician determines that a refillable prescription for a chronic disease may be needed, they can assist you with finding appropriate care from another provider.

Virtual Care Visits use industry-leading technology to protect your privacy and access to a large network of licensed healthcare providers throughout all 50 states.

How does remote patient monitoring work?

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  1. Prescription. Merriam-Webster. Accessed March 16, 2023.
  2. Prescription. The Free Dictionary. Accessed March 16, 2023.
  3. FASTSTATS - therapeutic drug use. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed March 16, 2023. Published February 23, 2023
  4. Prescription drugs and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs: Q & A. US Food and Drug Administration. Accessed March 16, 2023.
  5. OTC drug facts label. US Food and Drug Administration. Accessed March 16, 2023.
  6. What is telehealth? Health Resources and Services Administration. Accessed March 16, 2023.
  7. Telehealth policy 101. Center for Connected Health Policy. Published February 11, 2022. Accessed March 16, 2023.
  8. Saljoughian M. The benefits and limitations of telehealth. US Pharm. 2021;46(8):5-8.
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