March 7, 2005
In order to improve efficiency and control costs, health plans and medical groups around the country are beginning to pay doctors to reply by e-mail, just as they pay for office visits, writes Milt Freudenheim of the New York Times.
In some cases, Blue Shield of California pays doctors $25 for each online exchange. Some insurers pay a bit less for e-mailing, and patients in some health plans are charge a $5 and $10 co-payment that is billed to their credit card and relayed to the doctor. The benefits of medical messaging are multi-fold:
- Doctors find online exchanges to be highly convenient; e-mail reduced the number of daily office visits, giving them more time to spend with patients who need face to face attention.
- Industry experts believe e-mail could help spur the changeover to electronic health care information systems, which could reduce medical errors and promote better care.
- Early research from the University of California suggests that using e-mail improves the productivity of physicians, decreases overhead costs, and improves access to doctors for patients.
Health providers say fraud and overuse by doctors have not been a problem. In addition to keeping monthly tracking reports, health providers advise doctors to limit their replies to appropriate topics and to reply only to patients who have already been examined in office.
Source: Milt Freudenheim, "Digital Rx: Take Two Aspirins and E-Mail Me in the Morning," New York Times, March 2, 2005.
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