TIME celebrities

Here’s Laverne Cox’s Reaction to a Surprise Holiday Gift From Beyoncé

Actress Laverne Cox attends the 66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on Aug. 25, 2014 in Los Angeles.
Actress Laverne Cox attends the 66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on Aug. 25, 2014 in Los Angeles. Jason Merritt—Getty Images

"Since No No No I have been saying YASSS YASSS YASSS!"

Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox seems to have made Beyoncé‘s “very good” list this holiday season.

And the well-known Bey superfan’s excitement at receiving Bey’s annual Christmas card on Friday couldn’t be contained: The actress shared photos on social media of the singer’s hand-signed correspondence, as well as a “Cake by the Pound” sweatshirt she received as gift. Talk about a Snoopy dance moment!

For Cox, 30, 2014 was a breakout year. Her role as Sophia Burset on Netflix’s beloved series made her the first openly transgender actress to earn an Emmy nod. But the Emmys take a backseat to Beyoncé for Cox, who was obviously thrilled at Bey’s noticing and remembering her this holiday season.

“Thanks Bey for the gift. I have had an awesome year and this is certainly a highlight. Happy holidays Mrs. Carter to you and your beautiful family. Thanks for all the amazing music and endless inspiration you’ve given to me and so many,” the LGBT activist gushed. “Since No No No I have been saying YASSS YASSS YASSS! #QueenBey foever.”

This article originally appeared at PEOPLE.com

TIME celebrities

Elton John Marries Longtime Partner David Furnish

Film maker David Furnish and musician Sir Elton John arrive to attend the Elton John AIDS Foundation's 13th Annual An Enduring Vision Benefit on Oct. 28, 2014 in New York. Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images

They decided to marry after England's legalization of same-sex marriage in March

It’s official!

Nine years after they entered a civil partnership, Elton John and David Furnish married in an intimate ceremony on Sunday.

On Saturday, the couple had invited the world to join in on their special day by posting invites on their Instagram accounts.

“Sir Elton John and David Furnish request the pleasure of your company to celebrate their wedding on Sunday the 21st of December,” read the invite.

And they made good on that invitation, sharing moments throughout their wedding weekend with the hashtag #ShareTheLove.

“Our little ring bearers are fast asleep, and their shoes are polished and ready for tomorrow’s celebration,” John captioned a photo of the wedding shoes their sons – Zachary and Elijah who served as ringer bearers – wore.

During the ceremony, Zachary grabbed Furnish’s phone to take a photo of Elijah holding on to their parents as they exchanged vows.

Zachary grabs David's iPhone and takes a photo of his brother while we exchange our vows. #ShareTheLove

A photo posted by Elton John (@eltonjohn) on

John, 67, and Furnish, 52, recently revealed they decided to marry after England’s legalization of same-sex marriage in March.

“We don’t feel the need to take an extra step legally,” Furnish told The Las Vegas Review Journal. “But since we’re committed for life, we feel it’s really important to take that step, and take advantage of that amazing change in legislation. We all live by example.”

Good morning! Nice day for a wedding. #ShareTheLove

A photo posted by Elton John (@eltonjohn) on

This article originally appeared at PEOPLE.com

TIME Television

SNL: Watch Mike Myers Mock the Sony Hack as Dr. Evil

Dec. 20 show hosted by Amy Adams

Mike Myers reprised his role of Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers trilogy during the Dec. 20 show of Saturday Night Live, hosted by Amy Adams. In a sketch mocking the Sony hack, allegedly the work of North Korea, Dr. Evil hacks a Sam Smith commercial to set the audience straight on what it means to truly be evil, poking fun at the decisions hackers made that eventually led to Sony putting an indefinite hold on the film The Interview.

SNL’s “Girlfriends Talk Show” also returned for its latest installment, which focuses on how the co-host, Morgan, played by Aidy Bryant, just can’t please her dance team captain, played by Amy Adams. Turns out Morgan freezes up each time the team’s male dancers — played by One Direction, the show’s musical guest — show up around her.

In another sketch, Cecily Strong starred as Sarah Koenig, the host of the podcast Serial that took the nation by storm this year, and just wrapped up its first season this week. In Strong’s podcast, she investigates how an elf Kris Kringle, played by Kyle Mooney, transports gifts across the world in only one night.

TIME Travel

The Best Places to Celebrate the New Year

Getty Images

The over 100-year-old Ball Drop in New York City's Times Square is the most iconic and famous New Year's Eve celebration in the world, but it's not the only over-the-top party, and not the biggest or most expensive

Auckland, New Zealand

For those trying to ring in the New Year first, getting to the tiny island of Kiribati in Micronesia will undoubtedly be a hassle. Auckland clocks in a close second, with thousands of locals congregating around the Auckland Harbour to watch as fireworks shoot from the city’s massive Sky Tower.

Bangkok, Thailand

Taking a cue from New York’s Times Square, Bangkok’s Central World Mall has a 69-foot ball drop at midnight—but with an infinitely better climate and with Thai pop stars subbing for Dick Clark. It’s customary to make offerings of food, candles and flowers to monks at the nine sacred Buddhist temples, like Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho.

Barcelona, Spain

Wine lovers should get a kick out of Spain’s strangeNochevieja tradition of eating 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight—each grape ensuring good luck for the months to come. The ritual started in 1909, when Alicante wine makers needed to come up with a way to sell grapes they couldn’t use in production. Catalonians keep the tradition alive, then pop the corks on bottles of cava and dance at Plaza Cataluña.

Berlin, Germany

Berlin hosts one of the largest New Year’s Eve fêtes in Europe, with more than a million visitors forming the Party Mile near the Brandenburg Gate. Freezing temperatures require a substantial amount of Champagne and dancing to stay warm while watching the city’s massive fireworks and laser shows.

Dubai, UAE

As one of the world’s most opulent travel destinations, it’s hardly surprising that Dubai goes all out on New Year’s Eve, with a sea of two billion spectators gathering in front of the city’s towering Burj Khalifa skyscraper to watch as stunning pyrotechnics cascade from each floor of the 160-story building. This display follows a four-hour show of lasers, fire, water and music at the Dubai Fountain.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay (or “last day of the year”) is such a big New Year’s event that it spans four days. A massive street party in Edinburgh’s city center is only part of the madness. Events include concerts, a Viking-led torchlight procession and the Scottish version of the Polar Plunge—called the Loony Dook—in the freezing Forth Estuary waters.

Goa, India

In India’s premier party city, the beaches of Anjuna, Calangute and Candolim are transformed with raves as revelers sip on the regional liquor feni (made with coconut or cashew-apple juice) and dance to electronic music until dawn.

Hong Kong

Though New York celebrates New Year’s Eve 13 hours behind Hong Kong, the region drops a reproduction ball first at its very own Times Square Apple Countdown. The biggest party, however, takes place at Victoria Harbour: The city’s magnificent fireworks display shoots off from almost every skyscraper.

Kitzbühel, Austria

One of the world’s more unusual New Year’s destinations, Kitzbühel celebrates on New Year’s Day when instructors from the Rote Teufel ski school light their poles and entertain thousands with a daredevil ski show on the Hahnenkamm downhill race course.

Las Vegas, Nevada

Vegas puts on an even bigger spectacle than usual on New Year’s Eve, when the whole four-mile Strip shuts down to accommodate a massive outdoor bash complete with a blinding display of neon lights and fireworks from every casino.

Read the full list HERE.

This article originally appeared on Food & Wine.

More from Food & Wine:

TIME weather

What You Need to Know About Winter Solstice 2014

Winter is coming... officially on Dec. 21, 6:03 P.M. EST

Winter solstice, falling this year on Sunday, Dec. 21, marks the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. More precisely, winter officially begins at 6:03 p.m. ET — the moment when the Northern Hemisphere is pointed at its furthest distance from the sun. This means winter solstice boasts the longest night and the shortest day, and often colder temperatures, too.

But the good news? If you’re not a fan of winter, from each day on after the solstice, the days will get longer and warmer until the calendar hits summer solstice, June 21, 2015. Summer solstice marks the first day of summer, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.

READ MORE: 5 Things to Know About the Winter Solstice

Like last year, Google released an animated Google Doodle for this year’s winter solstice. This year’s doodle shows Father Christmas — the British predecessor to Santa — helping two children build a snowman, before the kids’ mother appears and pulls a carrot from her bag for the snowman’s nose. Christmas has become associated with winter solstice, which serves as a turning point in many cultures.

TIME Culture

‘The Affair’ Is the Sound of Puppies Drowning—And We Can’t Stop Listening

Ruth Wilson as Alison and Joshua Jackson as Cole in The Affair (season 1, episode 10). - Photo: Mark Schafer/SHOWTIME - Photo ID:  TheAffair_110_8727
'The Affair' Mark Schafer—Showtime

Elizabeth Wurtzel is the author of Prozac Nation, Bitch and More, Now, Again. Her latest book is Creatocracy: How the Constitution Invented Hollywood.

'The Affair' is emotional like how we used to be—now everyone is on Facebook and on Prozac... and dead inside.

Even though Showtime is commercial-free, I DVR The Affair so that I can fast-forward past Fiona Apple’s ululating over the opening credits. It is the sound of puppies drowning.

Absolutely everything about The Affair is too much, which must be its appeal. It is a bubble bath of bathos. The white waves break in Ditch Plain, and on the shore someone is screaming or crying or having sex on a trapeze. (Okay, I lied about the last thing—but the show has been renewed for another season, so here’s hoping.)

Of course, this is nothing at all like how we live now. No one is this this emotional anymore. The Affair is a lot like how we used to be, maybe in the last century. Now everyone is on Facebook and on Prozac—and dead inside. Which is probably a good thing—certainly it is better than epidemic road rage. Consider the way things go when everyone is out at the same time, like on Black Friday. On days like that, when many people have little control over their behavior, it seems good that psychotropic medication and online living have become so prevalent. But we are nostalgic for everything, including pain. Enter The Affair: on Sunday night at 10 p.m., there will be spiraling.

As a portrait of an extramarital relationship, The Affair is accurate in the worst ways. The two cheaters are the lesser halves of their respective marriages, and it is resentment that has led them down the primrose path. Alison is a failed nurse who is now a waitress, and Noah is a failed novelist who can’t even teach “Romeo and Juliet” to ninth graders like he knows what love is. After a brief encounter in a diner—yes, the writers of The Affair settled on that gin joint—Alison and Noah are obsessed like Capulets and Montagues. It happens like kaboom. Or like desperation. But people cheat because they can and they will and they do. The Affair does not make excuses for the affair. It does not even make excuses for the attraction. It shows every situation twice—he says, she says—and both ways all you get is that they are in it for the mess. Don’t try to explain why people do wrong for fun. There: I just explained it.

The usual checks and balances don’t exist to stop Noah and Alison. The dialogue can be characterized as bad advice alternated with worse advice. Both Noah’s daughter and Alison’s mother-in-law are sociopaths, and only some of the children’s clothes are imported from France to Brooklyn. The only character on The Affair who seems to have principles is Cole, Alison’s husband, but he also happens to be running a drug-smuggling operation disguised as a horse stable. There is no one who is just an okay person on The Affair. Everyone is lousy.

Dominic West played Jimmy McNulty on The Wire, and McNulty was lousy. Really lousy. As a guy, Jimmy McNulty was worse than Noah Solloway. But McNulty had a mission. He was natural police. He was a man with a job he cared about. A lot. His wretched personal life was a sideshow that the audience forgave—mostly—because McNulty was cleaning up Baltimore one perp at a time like it mattered.

There was a time when television was about relationships mostly, but then the best TV was suddenly about work. Lately, whether it’s Mad Men or The Good Wife, people are more substantial accomplishing than emoting. We prefer it. We prefer it the way we prefer that life be less messy, which is why we conduct so much of it on a screen. But somehow, when we are reminded of how raw we can be—and how ridiculous it is—we watch The Affair as obsessively as the characters behave. We want to do wrong for fun.

Elizabeth Wurtzel is the author of Prozac Nation, Bitch and More, Now, Again. Her latest book is Creatocracy: How the Constitution Invented Hollywood.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Family

What It’s Really Like to Care for a Dying Parent

Getty Images

Despite everyone's best efforts, my mom is clearly, obviously dying


There are two things that movies consistently get wrong: sex and death.

Just like no real-life sex scene has ever involved seamless, body-fluid-free sex (I, for one, seem to consistently get stuck in my skinny jeans while covertly trying to take them off), very few deaths are the simple, dignified situations we see portrayed on screen. Death, real death, is a messy, confusing process for everyone involved.

A few months ago I wrote an article for xoJane about my mother, who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. At the time she had plateaued. Roughly three weeks ago, however, that changed.

Determined to walk, she hauled herself out of bed — and promptly fractured her pelvis. At the time, she was still receiving treatment — now she’s in hospice. As terrible as it was before, this is worse. She is completely bedridden and has a catheter. Despite everyone’s best efforts, she immediately got a UTI and yeast infection upon arriving home. She’s restless — she’s scared. What little she says rarely makes sense. She is clearly, obviously dying.

How do you care for someone who is dying? We all have a pretty good idea of what it means to nurse someone back to health, but how do you compassionately nurse them into death?

Even typing that raises my hackles a little. We live in a society that prizes life — by any means, in any shape — above all else, so reconciling that programming with what is clearly worse than death is difficult, to say the least. I am completely pro-choice and very much believe assisted suicide should be legal. But nevertheless, the ethical dance I’m doing now feels fraught with peril. I usually lay my mom’s pills out with her breakfast. She doesn’t ask for food or water, but I still bring them.When she does eat, she doesn’t eat much — a bite here and there.

And don’t even get me started on the morphine. She’s agitated a lot of the time — to the point of attempting to to get out of bed — and morphine helps calm her. But is it wrong to administer it in order to relieve psychic, not physical, pain? While the fracture is painful, the truth is I dose her more for the agitation than for the pain. Is that merciful, or profoundly messed up?

These are the questions I wrestle with daily. I know my mom — she would have never wanted to live like this. One of the last clear things she said to me when she was diagnosed was that she didn’t want to dwindle.

I can see the pain and frustration on her face when I tell her she can’t walk, or when I have to clean her after a bowel movement. But at the same time, I’m not sure where my place is in this process. She is mostly non-communicative, so I can only guess at what she wants. I have asked her if she’s tired, if she’s ready to let go — her only response is a blank stare.

Recently, I met with a social worker to discuss mortuaries, and on the back page of the packet she gave me there was a section regarding donating the body for scientific purposes, specifically the eyes. I felt like I’d been sucker punched. I believe in donating one’s organs for the greater good, but how do you make that decision for someone else? I know my mom is an organ donor, but…which organs? How many organs? Is there really a moral difference between donating someone’s eyes and donating someone’s kidneys, or am I just being squeamish?

The only organ donors you see on “Grey’s Anatomy” are car accident fatalities. No one ever talks about mulling over whether or not to give someone’s organs away while they’re still conscious in another room.

Tomorrow will be the one-year anniversary of my mom’s diagnosis. She’s made it much farther than anyone ever predicted, but I can’t pretend that I believe that’s a good thing. A family friend told me that I’d look back and treasure this extra time I was able to spend with my mom — I wish that were true, but it isn’t. I’ve watched her do exactly what she stated she didn’t want to do — dwindle. It’s horrific, and I know neither she nor I expected it to be like this.

Which is why I’m writing this article — I think it’s important to open a frank dialogue about what it means to die. How do we help our loved ones die? What, exactly, do heroic measures mean to different individuals? For one person it might be CPR, but for another, it might be administering any medication at all, down to steroids or anticonvulsants. What are tolerable living circumstances — i.e., what happens if you become bed bound? Incontinent??

These are tough questions, and they’re usually brought up too late, whispered shamefully in the corridor of a hospital. But my hope is that, just like we’ve learned to discuss with our children what they should actually expect from sex, we’ll someday be able to talk openly to one another about what we can really expect from death.

Gracie F. is a writer and contributor to xoJane. This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME sexuality

I Am a Pro-Gay Evangelical Christian Fighting for Marriage Equality

Getty Images

Brandan Robertson is the spokesperson for Evangelicals for Marriage Equality.

Time and time again, I encountered men and women who identify as LGBTQ and were still overflowing with love for Jesus


After spending four years in a conservative evangelical Bible College in Chicago, I had a dramatic realization: Evangelicals, which means “people of Good News,” were instead seen by the surrounding world as people of Fox News.

Evangelical Christianity had become known for its conservative politics, narrow social views, and dislike of LGBTQ people. In Chicago, I had the opportunity to visit a large number of diverse faith communities and met, for the first time in my life, faithful gay Christians.

I had previously been told that such a person couldn’t exist. One could not embrace a “homosexual lifestyle” while simultaneously claiming to follow Jesus Christ. And yet, time and time again, I encountered men and women who identify as LGBTQ and were still overflowing with love for Jesus.

How could I claim that these people I met weren’t faithful Christians?

Why was it OK for the church to condemn and marginalize these men and women who were so committed to our faith? And what kind of witnesses were we being to the broader LGBTQ community when we actively fought against their right to be civilly married under the law?

Throughout my time in college, questions like these plagued me. I spent an enormous amount of time praying, studying the Bible, and talking with LGBTQ Christians as I tried to figure out where Evangelicals had gone wrong. The revelation came to me one day as I was reading through the first four books of the New Testament known as the “Gospels.” The Gospels are four unique accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus. They form the very foundation of the Christian faith and message.

As I read through these books, I began to see a different side of Jesus, a side that I had been missing for a long time.

I discovered a Jesus who wasn’t concerned with establishing laws or policing the morality of his society. Jesus didn’t seem too concerned with upholding religious doctrines and dogmas, either. Instead, Jesus’ message and example was one of love for every single person. Even when Jesus interacted with those who he considered sinners, his message wasn’t one of condemnation. Instead, his message was one of redemption and restoration.

It was my reexamining of Jesus that finally changed my mind about LGBTQ marriage equality — not, say, a liberal political agenda, or “selling out” my faith to be popular.

It was the example of my Savior that compelled me to begin supporting marriage equality in the United States. And four years later, I am honored to serve as the national spokesperson for a new organization that is working to change the hearts and minds of my fellow evangelicals on this issue.

Evangelicals for Marriage Equality (EME) was founded by two straight evangelicals who felt compelled for many of the same reasons I did to begin speaking out in support of civil marriage equality. The organization’s mission is simple: We believe you can be a devout, Bible-believing evangelical and support the right of same-sex couples to be recognized by the government as married. Our commitment to following Christ leads us to speak out for equal treatment under the law for others — whether or not they share our religious convictions.

In the evangelical church, there are a growing number of millennials (people roughly between the ages of 18-35) who have come to stand in full support of marriage equality for our LGBTQ friends and family. As young evangelicals like us evolve on this issue, we have encountered opposition from elder church leaders who are still very committed to standing against civil marriage for LGBTQ couples.

At EME, it is my hope to be able to sit down with these evangelical leaders and explain to them why I, as a faithful evangelical, have come to disagree with their position. Our ultimate goal is to make room for my fellow evangelicals to be able to step out in support of marriage equality.

It is my hope and prayer that through conversations and reexamining the words of Jesus that we can change the hearts of many evangelicals — in order to call us back to being people of good news and of unconditional love for all.

This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Boxing

Muhammad Ali Hospitalized With ‘Mild Case’ of Pneumonia

Muhammad Ali attends the 2014 Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards at the Louisville Marriott Downtown on Sept. 27, 2014 in Louisville.
Muhammad Ali attends the 2014 Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Awards at the Louisville Marriott Downtown on Sept. 27, 2014 in Louisville. Stephen J. Cohen—Getty Images

Ali, widely considered the greatest fighter in boxing history, has been hospitalized with a 'mild case' of pneumonia, reports said

Muhammad Ali was hospitalized on Saturday with a mild case of pneumonia, according to NBC News. His prognosis is considered good, as WDRB in Louisville, Ky., reports Ali is in stable condition.

Ali, 72, is widely considered the greatest fighter in boxing history. In 61 fights, he finished 56-5 with 37 knockouts. Ali also won the heavyweight crown three times, the first boxer to do so. Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., he changed his name to Muhammad Ali after joining the Nation of Islam.

Ali has battled Parkinson’s for decades. In October, Rahman Ali reportedly said his brother’s health had declined to the point where he was too ill to speak, according to The Courier-Journal. Ali later refuted the reports on Twitter, as did his family’s spokesman.

“Muhammad is doing fine at this point,” family spokesman Bob Gunnell said in October. “His speaking style is lower in tone, and as the day goes on, he doesn’t speak as well as he does in the morning. But Muhammad’s a strong person for his age and for the disease he has.”

- Mike Fiammetta

TIME Healthcare

Should You Video Chat With Your Doctor?

Getty Images

When to embrace the digital doc

In a world where you can manage your money, order a ride to the airport, and shop for pretty much everything via your phone, going to the doctor’s office is probably one of the only things you still do face-to-face. For the most part, that’s for a good reason. Your medical care requires much more specialized expertise than depositing a check, after all.

But if you’ve ever waited more than an hour at an urgent care clinic for a sore throat, you know that the whole business of going to a doctor can seem frustratingly antiquated. How many times have you wanted to see a doctor, but decided to postpone it for as long as possible on account of the hassle? The trek there, the rude receptionist, the waiting room—all for just three minutes of doctor time. Oy.

Well, it looks like change might finally be on the horizon: Thanks to the growing availability of telemedicine or telehealth services, you can now skip all of that noise and video conference with a doctor from home any time–even in your pajamas. Sounds amazing, if also a little too good to be true. We talked to experts to find out whether it’s worth a try.

HEALTH.COM: 7 Women’s Health Problems Doctors Miss

Is it safe?

Telemedicine has actually been around for some time. Right now there are about 200 telemedicine networks and more than half of U.S. hospitals are using it in some way to better connect doctors with patients with chronic illnesses like heart disease, according to the American Telemedicine Association. Certain health insurance companies are also hopping on-board to reimburse for online visits. But because of the wide availability of smartphones it’s only now that we’re starting to see new services for everyday health complaints.

Even the always conservative American Medical Association agrees that it can be helpful, though it’s not a total substitute for in-person care.”We need more research, but there are plenty of circumstances where a video call with a doctor could work,” says Robert M. Wah, MD, president of the American Medical Association and a reproductive endocrinologist in McLean, Va. That said, he adds: “Better information is what leads to better decisions, so on balance, face-to-face is best. Being in the office with your doctor offers a more complete picture of whatever is going on.”

HEALTH.COM: Scary Symptoms You Can Relax About

But according to some of the brains behind the phenomenonexecutives who see a business opportunity in making healthcare more accessible, and yes, the physicians moving their practices onlinewhen used appropriately, telemedicine is not only safe, it’s a much-needed option.

“The fact is my doctors are treating patients every day who have gaps in their care,” says Peter Antall, MD, a pediatrician in Thousand Oaks, Calif. and president and medical director of the Online Care Group, which provides doctors for patients to see online via Amwell. “We don’t aspire to be your primary care physician, but we recognize that many people don’t have a primary care doctor. Even if they do, it’s not convenient or even feasible for that primary care doctor to be available 24-7.”

On top of that, “using a whole afternoon to see a doctor in-person is in many cases, unnecessary,”says Ron Gutman, the CEO of HealthTap, an app and healthcare platform that like Amwell, allows you to log in, choose a doctor, and see him or her via video within minutes. According to Healthtap’s research, “between 35 and 40% of visits are for simple issues that can be solved with a conversation. But doctors ask you to come in because of the way payment works: the only way they will get reimbursed by your insurance is if you make the trip.” (With Healthtap, you pay $44 per visit via their concierge service, or for unlimited access to on-call doctors for $99 per month with Healthtap prime. They don’t take insurance, but some platforms, like Amwell, do.)

HEALTH.COM: Want to Skip The Doctor? Try This

And if you’re worried about who you’ll meet on the other end: “We’re working with real, board-certified doctors that we’ve vetted for you,” Gutman continues. “They are very protective of their medical licenses. If you’re dialing in for a scary situation they will say, get to the ER now. They will tell you when you need in-person care.”

When can I use it?

As Dr. Wah says, online visits aren’t going to replace seeing your doctor in real life. But it may be helpful to have the option in your back pocket when certain situations arise.

Let’s say you wake up one morning and your eye is red, puffy, and oozing. For something like that, Dr. Antall explains, you can be connected within minutes with a doctor who can confirm whether you have pink eye and send a prescription for eyedrops to your local pharmacy, if needed. Same goes for when you have say, a lingering cough or a sinus infection.

If you have a chronic condition like diabetes or asthma, you might want to look into it as an extra resource. “It’s useful when it’s a Friday night. Your sugars are out of whack and you can’t figure out why, and the regular doctor is unreachable until Monday,” Dr. Antall explains. “Or maybe you’re an asthmatic who’s out of your inhaler refills.” It’s also helpful for skin issues: A new study published in JAMA Dermatology found that people with eczema who were treated remotely by sending pictures to dermatologists fared just as well as those treated in-person.

HEALTH.COM: 5 Ways to Tell if You Need Antibiotics

You can also easily get a second opinion. Maybe you have fibroids and your doctor has recommended a certain type of surgery. Signing up for something like Healthtap, which has a database of more than 64,000 doctors in 137 specialties, can be an easy, convenient way to get advice from a handful of experts. You can spend an afternoon asking all the questions you want before making your final decision.

And finally, you know those times when you’re in some pain or have a weird symptom, but you’re not quite sure if you need to see a doctor or not? You can use one of these apps to ask a few questions, explains Buck Parker, MD, a general surgeon who sees patients via HealthTap eight hours a week. “A lot of what I’m doing is simply answering basic questions: ‘I smashed my finger in the door, does it look broken?’ for example. It’s almost like ‘pre-doctor’s visits’ where we can really save people a lot of hassle by counseling them on whether they need to see a doctor in-person or not.”

But how much can you really do over video?

You can’t do blood tests or urinalysis, that’s for sure. “But you can direct the patient to push on lymph nodes or a swollen ankle in the right spot (so the doctor can see how it reacts), and you can ask all the necessary questions,” Dr. Antall says.

To stretch the video capabilities, there are also solutions like HealthSpot, which creates kiosks that are sort of like the medical version of an ATM, says the company’s CEO Steve Cashman. Staffed with doctors from big health systems like the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, and Kaiser Permanente and located in places like community centers and strip malls, all you do is step inside and the doctor appears on screen. The kiosk is equipped with diagnostic devices like a digital stethoscope and thermometer as well as digital scopes for looking in ears, throat and getting close-ups on your skin.

Right now Healthspot only has about 20 stations across the country, but soon you might see them at a Rite-Aid near you.

HEALTH.COM: What to Do When You Disagree With Your Doctor

This article originally appeared on Health.com

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser