‘Hi, Doc!’ DM’ing the doctor could cost you (or your insurance plan)

The rapid expansion of telehealth communication during the pandemic has created a deluge of patient messages that are adding to doctors’ workloads, leading to some hospitals implementing charges for responses to online queries.

The new normal: The pandemic led to a surge in patients using telehealth technologies to communicate with their doctors, often bypassing the need for in-person appointments.
* Researcher A Jay Holmgren reported that physicians were dealing with over 50% more patient messages than before, even after the lockdowns had ended.
* The added workload has reported to contribute to physician burnout, with increases in cynicism and thoughts of leaving clinical practice.

To pay or not to pay: To compensate doctors and discourage excessive patient communication, hospitals and health systems have started charging for responses to messages, with costs usually covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance.
* Co-pays for these services can range between $5 and $75, depending on the patient’s insurance plan.
* However, charges have neither significantly decreased the volume of patient communication nor adequately compensated doctors, with charges only being billed for about 3% of messages.

Seeking a sustainable solution: Experts agree that a sustainable business model needs to be established to facilitate this new form of patient-doctor communication.
* Balancing the need for expanded access and affordability for patients is crucial.
* Harvard Medical School Assistant Professor Eve Rittenberg advocates for health care systems to compensate doctors for overall care – including email communication – instead of the prevalent fee-for-service model, where every individual task is billed.

View original article on NPR

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