Until now, concerns over reimbursement and liability have deterred physicians from exchanging emails with patients, so this service should spur physician uptake. But while patients say they would pay for online consultations, it’s less clear that people will actually be willing to put up the cash for an exchange that, some argue, could occur for free on the phone.
Medem plans to launch a service enabling physicians to charge patients for online consultations.
Physician communications provider Medem will on Monday launch a new service that enables physicians to charge patients for online consultations. This adds to Medem’s already established secure messaging option, which allows appointment scheduling and prescription refills. Currently, approximately 10% of Medem’s physicians offer patients the messaging option, which is free.
Patients who wish to participate in the new service will have to agree to their physician’s terms and conditions, such as length of time expected for a response to a query. They will also have to pay around $20-30 per consultation.
Consumers have said in earlier surveys that say they are willing to pay for online consultations, while Datamonitor’s IMPACT survey shows that most consumers want to use the Internet in their interactions with physicians – but only 6% feel the Internet has an impact on physician relationships at present.
Patients are particularly interested in scheduling physician appointments, emailing physicians, and having prescriptions sent directly to their pharmacies over the Internet. This service addresses many of those needs, as well as addressing physician concerns over reimbursement and liability. As such, patients and physicians are both likely to welcome it.
However, when they actually use the service, patients may find that they are paying more than they would for an office visit, and receiving less personal service. Further, physicians may need extra office resources to screen emails and notify patients when their questions are too complex for online consultations. It may also be difficult for staff to draw the line between simple questions (which are supposed to be free) and questions requiring a service fee.
Care may also suffer, as patients spend less time with medical professionals. And some patients may wonder why they are paying the full cost for online consultations, while their health plans avoid the (higher) costs of office visits.
Related research: Datamonitor, 2001: Targeting an eHealth Audience: What Pharmaceutical Companies Need to Know About Physicians, Consumers and the Internet
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