What Is PlushCare?
PlushCare is a website where you can schedule online doctor’s visits including urgent care, ongoing care, ordering of tests and PrEP prescriptions.
The concept is something is known as telemedicine – you get to see the doctor face to face via your computer or phone.
PlushCare was founded and launched in 2014 by Ryan McQuaid and Dr. James Wantuck. According to Mark Spera, the head of marketing at PlushCare, Wantuck and business partner McQuaid realized that the healthcare system was broken, expensive and accessibility was poor.
Out of that dissatisfaction over the state of healthcare, the two men decided to start their telemedicine website.
If you’re new to telemedicine and are hesitant to get your medical care from a doctor you meet online, it’s understandable. However, the trend has slowly grown over the past couple of years – insurance companies like Oscar feature telemedicine appointments with their doctors, too.
Is PlushCare the right fit for you? How does it work? How much does it cost? These are the important questions you should ask before using a telemedicine service. After all, your health is at stake.
Our review is the result of in-depth research that includes our own experience exploring the company’s website along with information we gathered through a phone interview and email correspondence with PlushCare Head of Marketing Mark Spera and Wantuck.
At the end of our review, we’ll do a quick wrap-up of the site’s pros and cons and we’ll also talk about who we think is a good fit for PlushCare.
How PlushCare Works
The PlushCare website is very easy to use. You click on the “Appointments” option on their home screen. Then, you input your state and let them know which day you need the appointment and who the appointment is for.
PlushCare provides a list of doctors who are available on the day you selected, as well as which times they’re available. Here’s a screenshot of our results:
Each doctor who shows up in the results has their full name, a photo (in most cases), and a star rating that’s based on the reviews of patients. Image Credit: PlushCare.com
You can click on any of the doctors in the results to see their full profile, which includes the following information:
- Languages spoken
Doctor’s can also have two icons on their profile: a diploma indicating they attended a top-50 medical school and a ribbon indicating their years of experience.
Here’s a screenshot of one of the doctors who appeared in our search results. Image Credit: PlushCare.com
Once you choose your doctor and the time slot, you set up the appointment. To attend the appointment, you log into the PlushCare website or app beforehand and wait until the appointment time.
It’s recommended that you log-in to your account, choose the Appointments option and click “Start” about 3 minutes before your appointment starts.
If the doctor doesn’t show up to the appointment, the site’s FAQ section recommends that you call PlushCare immediately at (888) 997-6506. This is also the number you’ll call if you don’t show up to your appointment.
According to the site’s FAQ page, you won’t be charged for your appointment until “30 minutes after your appointment is complete”.
Now, if the doctor can’t solve your issue during your appointment, PlushCare says you won’t be charged for the appointment. Basically, no solution, no fee.
The site’s FAQ page says the doctor will let the company know that the appointment wasn’t successful, which alerts PlushCare not to charge you.
What Types of Services Can PlushCare Provide?
When using a service like this it’s important to understand what is and isn’t offered. Basically, PlushCare’s doctors take care of non-emergency medical situations that tend to fall under urgent care, long-term care and testing.
Now, when we say “urgent care” we mean conditions you’d go to an urgent care center for that don’t include things that require a procedure like stitches. Colds, flus, bronchitis, allergies, pink eye, UTI’s, respiratory infections and the like are common conditions doctors can diagnose, treat and prescribe, their site says.
According to Spera, the site’s doctors can also provide care for chronic conditions, too, like diabetes and hypertension.
The final phase of their services is testing – you can use their site to get labs ordered at Quest or LabCorp, two popular labs used by most insurance carriers and which are available across the country. STD testing is available, too.
Spera also pointed out that PlushCare’s doctors can prescribe PrEP, a popular drug for those who have sexually active lifestyles or take drugs and want to prevent HIV.
As for a doctor’s prescribing power, they can’t prescribe a first prescription for a chronic illness; that needs to come from your doctor first.
Also, Serpa noted that their doctors can’t provide prescriptions for drugs like painkillers that have a “high potential for abuse”.
How PlushCare Picks Their Doctors
According to Spera, the company tries to bring in doctors who graduated from top 50 medical schools. “Top 50” is somewhat arbitrary in the sense that there is no definitive list of the 50 best medical schools in the nation.
It does show, however, that PlushCare is discerning in the doctors they bring aboard; there’s a good chance your physician will have graduated from a prestigious school. While it doesn’t guarantee that they’ll be better than a non-top-50 doctor, it is a good way to make sure you’re getting the best-trained doctors you can.
The doctors who turned up in our search results graduated from Stanford, Yale, and the University of California, San Francisco.
A PlushCare appointment for those without health insurance costs $99.
Those who have health insurance will pay a co-pay, provided the doctor is in the insurance provider’s network and your particular plan allows you to use a PlushCare doctor if he or she isn’t your primary care physician.
The company’s site says that they are in-network with a variety of major health insurance carriers, including United Healthcare, Blue Cross, Anthem, Cigna and Aetna.
Now, if you need tests done, your fees will range from $99 to $199 depending on what you require. Here’s an example of what a $99 test will get you:
- Blood count
- Kidney function
- High blood sugar screening
A $199 test gets you everything we just listed plus:
- Vitamin D, B12 and folate
- Iron panel
- Advanced thyroid testing
An STD test costs $199, but if you use insurance it will cost you $60.
Customer Reviews of PlushCare
We did some research about consumer opinions of PlushCare and found excellent reviews across the board, with many people saying they loved the ease with which they could get an appointment.
The Final Word: Pros and Cons of PlushCare
With all the frustration boiling up around the country about the complexities of our healthcare system, PlushCare is a refreshing service. The pricing is straightforward and the concept is, in some ways, what many people want. You set an appointment, talk with a doctor and get a diagnosis without ever leaving your home.
This type of care is possible, Wantuck pointed out in an interview with CNBC, because 90% of diagnoses can be made by asking the right questions. So, more often than not, a doctor doesn’t actually have to be in the room with you to know what’s wrong and prescribe medication.
Another advantage to the service is that they work with major insurers, and, as long as your plan allows you to use one of their doctors, the fact that everything can be done at home for a co-pay makes things really easy, especially for families who may not have the time or energy to load up the kids and go to the doctor’s office.
The downside to a service like PlushCare is that insurance issues could arise in specific situations. For example, certain doctors may not be in-network and other ones might be. Of course, this isn’t something specific to PlushCare; it could be an issue anytime you want to go to a new doctor.
Also, depending on where you live, a visit to a brick-and-mortar urgent care could be cheaper than the $99 fee the site is charging.
In general, we believe this service is an excellent fit for those without insurance who need an urgent-care type of appointment where they can get medicine for common conditions like colds, flu and allergies. Those same people can also benefit from the fact that you can order labs straight from the website.
We also think the service is of great benefit to those who have mobility issues and can’t freely get into their car and drive to the nearest urgent care or doctor’s office.