Hospitals are now charging patients for electronic communications with medical professionals.
The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published a study detailing the methodology and cost behind expenses associated with electronic communication with hospital doctors.
This study claimed that patients contacting doctors through electronic means increased by more than 50% during the COVID-19 pandemic. This increase in contact was indicated as requiring a considerable amount of unpaid clinician time.
As a result, some healthcare providers began to bill patient messages as e-visits because of the significant amount of lost time involved.
Researchers conducted their study by looking into e-visit billing at UCSF Health in California. While adoption of the new billing practice was low, researchers found that these e-visit charges can range from $3 to $100.
Patients who knew they could be charged for electronically communicating with a medical professional were observed in the study to be less likely to seek medical assistance.
Cleveland Clinic recorded that its email volume had doubled since 2019, according to The New York Times. Since starting its billing program in November 2022, the hospital has only charged for responses to less than 1% of the estimated 110,000 weekly emails its providers receive.
“Billing a patient’s health insurance supports the necessary decision-making and time commitment of our physicians and other advanced professional providers,” Angela Smith, a spokeswoman for the Cleveland Clinic, told the NYT.
Nina McCollum, whose elderly mother relied on treatment from this clinic, described the implementation of these charges as a “slap in the face,” noting, “Every 15 or 20 dollars matters, because her (his mother’s) money is running out.”
Dr. Chad Domangue, a pain medicine specialist in Covington, Louisiana, told NewsNation that the volume of messages can be difficult for doctors if they are not receiving compensation.
“In my practice, I get about 200 phone calls a day, I get hundreds of emails a day, I’m a single doctor, you know, I employ 20-something staff members,” he said.
“Right now, if I do telemedicine, I’m getting about a 30% reduction, or reimbursement, versus seeing in person,” said Dr. Domangue.
Domangue asserted that hospitals can make their money through other billing opportunities, such as testing and services, so they do not need to bill for such things. However, for doctors, he said, such messages take time away from seeing patients.
“From a hospital standpoint, they should not be taxing a patient as much, because they have much better electronic medical record systems. They have multiple staff members,” Domangue explained.
Not everyone thinks it is a good practice, however.
Dr. Kedar Mate, chief executive at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a nonprofit in Boston, worries that charging patients for electronic communication will make it more difficult for people to obtain medical care.
“Increasing levels of communication and interactions with patients is a good thing. And I worry about disincentivizing that by creating a financial barrier,” Dr. Mate said.