NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Doctors Want Reimbursement for E-mail Consultations

February 19, 2002

Most physicians still don't use e-mail to communicate with patients. But that may be because insurers won't pay them for online or e-mail consultations.

According to a Deloitte/Fulcrum survey.

  • Currently, one in four doctors in America (23 percent) interacts with patients by e-mail, up 4 percentage points from the previous year.
  • A majority (79 percent) of those who do not e-mail their patients said they prefer communicating with their patients in person.
  • On average, physicians said they would expect to get $57 for a 15-minute consultation -- placing a dollar amount on an activity that isn't yet part of the current health care reimbursement structure.

Physicians expressed a concern that face-to-face communication might be denigrated. However, when asked what would motivate them to engage in online or e-mail communications, a majority put money at the top of the list. With the exception of a handful of limited experiments in local markets, doctors do not get paid for e-mail consults. Thus they fear that e-mail consults will add to their workload, without adding to their income.

In fact, 54 percent said reimbursement would be a major reason they would consider using e-mail. They also might be persuaded to use e-mail if they could re-allocate staff (43 percent), save time (42 percent), see more patients in a week (37 percent) and cut expenses (37 percent).

Past research by Fulcrum Analytics (formerly Cyber Dialogue) found that Internet users are interested in managing their benefits through an insurance carrier's Web site, and seek other types of health information online (see figure).

Source: "Doctors Say Money Would Motivate E-Mail Consultations," Reuters Health, January 29, 2002; based on "Taking Technology's Temperature: Physicians Still Cool Toward E-mail," Fulcrum Analytics and Deloitte Research, January 29, 2002.


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