NASHVILLE -- Tennessee residents now can visit a doctor by telephone for relief from minor ailments.

A service called Apogee Doctor on Call charges $50 per contact for physician consultations, according to The Tennessean. The Arizona-based Apogee Physicians told the newspaper that Tennessee is the pilot state for its remote program, partly because the company already provides staffing at a dozen hospitals around the state.

The queries are answered around the clock, seven days a week. Doctors cannot prescribe narcotics, but can message pharmacies for routine prescriptions, such as antibiotics. Viagra isn't on the list of available prescriptions.

Dr. Peter Purrington, who is an Apogee physician in Clarksville, sees the access as an important tool, particularly in rural areas of the state, where patients don't have easy access to a doctor. Calls will be routed to Apogee doctors who are not currently on duty.

"This is really a great opportunity to bridge that gap," he said.

Some medical professionals have concerns about the idea.

Dr. Mohamad Sidani, a professor with Meharry Medical College, said body language is very important in diagnosing an illness and he wants to see patients face to face.

Purrington, however, says the phone access isn't designed to replace the office visit. He says it's a way for someone who is feeling ill to talk to a licensed, board-certified doctor in the middle of the night when an emergency room visit may not be necessary.

The service is not designed to function as primary care, and doctors will advise people who call to check in with their regular physicians.

Services like Apogee Doctor On Call can be used by people who don't have a primary care physician, as can retail pharmacy clinics. While the services are convenient, using them as a replacement for a regular doctor could allow a chronic condition to go undiagnosed.

Insurance providers, while sometimes directing people to such services, also encourage the people they cover to get annual physicals and be tested for chronic conditions.

Purrington noted that accessing on-call doctors could help a person in medical distress. He said if the symptoms sound like a possible heart attack, the doctor will advise a caller to dial 911.