Heading off to college is super exciting, but moving far away from wherever you grew up can also cause some serious back-to-school stress. Among saying goodbye to your best friends (nooo!), learning how to be in a temporary long-distance relationship with your S.O. and plotting out your future career path, you also have to scout out new fave spots and resources that’ll become a part of your daily life. Since finding a new doc might be the toughest of them all, we chatted with Dr. Michael Warner, the chief medical officer at Ask the Doctor. He gave us the 411 on *exactly* how to use digital health platforms, which let you talk, text, message or video chat with a healthcare professional, to access medical care while you’re away at school. Though digital resources won’t replace an IRL physician, Dr. Warner’s list of dos and don’ts will definitely be useful as you search for a new doctor, or during times you have a pesky ailment and just can’t miss class.

Woman sick in bed

1. DO use digital health resources during off hours. Dr. Warner tells us, “One of the best things about professional digital health resources is that they’re available after-hours and on weekends, when your only other alternative is to consult ‘Dr. Google’ — or wait in the emergency room for a condition that’s not a true emergency.” Some digital health resources are even available 24/7/365. Just as awesome, many digital health resources offer mobile apps in addition to an online experience. All you need to do is pull out your phone.

2. DO use digital health resources when you want anonymity. Many digital platforms make it easy for you to remain anonymous when seeking medical advice. This differs from what might happen IRL, like seeing classmates or friends in the waiting room. Dr. Warner says, “Digital health platforms will also typically create a permanent digital record of your patient/physician interaction. You can share this with your in-person doctor or a physician you see in person later if you need to.” That’s easy.

sick cold flu woman and laptop

3. DON’T use a digital health resource for an emergency or long-term care. Dr. Warner advises, “Digital health resources are NOT designed to provide emergency care. In an emergency situation, it’s always best to call an ambulance or go to the hospital.” He also says that you should think strongly about using your own physician if you have a complex medical condition, since digital health care providers aren’t designed to provide long-term, continuous care. “They’re better for providing care when unexpected conditions arise that are inconvenient, but not too serious,” he says.

4. DON’T use digital health resources for general medical info or curiosity Qs. Though it’s common for students to want to communicate with a doctor just to have a question answered, it’s a good idea to identify your specific needs BEFORE you use a digital health resource. Dr. Warner suggests, “For general medical information or questions asked out of curiosity (like, ‘how does the heart work?’ or ‘how do you contract pneumonia?’), I recommend Google searches, Wikipedia and WebMD.” He tells us that if your need is more specific and you have medical history or symptoms to share, a digital health resource will be much more help to you.

5. DO use digital health resources for specific needs. On the flip side, customized help is *exactly* when digital health resources can be the best thing since sliced bread. Dr. Warner agrees and notes, “It’s true. For customized medical advice or counseling (‘My doctor prescribed a medication and I don’t understand all the potential side effects; can you explain them?’ or ‘I received the following blood test results, are any of them abnormal?’), a digital health resource is exactly what you need.

Since there are a ton of different digital health apps and resources out there nowadays, do a quick search to figure out which one will meet your needs and budget. You might find that Ask The Doctor is best, with its constant availability, or that an app like Maven, which caters specifically to women, is a better fit. A few other companies (among many) to check out are HealthTap, Breakthrough and Doctor on Demand. Dr. Warner says, “Most digital health platforms are relatively inexpensive to use, so another benefit is the cost relative to that of insurance deductibles or of missing class or work to sit in a waiting room.” Sign us up.

Have you used a digital health platform instead of visiting the doc IRL? Tell us if it helped solve the problem on Twitter @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)