Emailing Your Doctor Could Start Costing You Money
Here's how the changes may affect your care—and your wallet.
With the widespread adoption of secure patient portals and the social changes brought on by the COVID pandemic, it may not come as a surprise that people are now emailing their doctors at unprecedented levels.
Many patients say the increased communication has been largely positive, helping to bridge long wait periods between in-person appointments and making medical professionals more accessible, but some doctors say it has placed added pressure on their already strained schedules. That's why some hospitals and medical practices say they now charge for select patient emails—a new practice that could change the way you interact with your doctor.
Read on to learn why emailing your doctor could start costing you money, and how much you can expect to pay for pressing "send."
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Some medical practices have begun charging for emails.
In recent years, doctors have faced a surge in digital communication from their patients. In fact, the Cleveland Clinic recently told The New York Times that they've seen a twofold increase in patient email volume since 2019.
With already packed schedules, some doctors say keeping up with the influx of messaging is untenable. In response, certain hospitals and other medical practices have begun charging a fee for emails or messages sent through secure medical portals such as MyChart.
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Whether you are charged may depend on how detailed your message is.
Though the Cleveland Clinic reports receiving over 110,000 medical messages weekly, representatives say they intend to charge for less than one percent of those communications. Specifically, the hospital network has begun billing for emails that require detailed, medical responses which might functionally replace a short, in-person visit.
Shorter exchanges about appointment scheduling, prescription refills, and follow-up care are not typically billed under the current system. However, some worry that in the future, the system could be abused for the insurer's gain.
Here's what you might expect to pay.
If you have health insurance, your coverage plan is most likely to bear the brunt of the changes. The New York Times reports that Medicaid patients are not currently charged, while Medicare beneficiaries with no supplemental health plan can expect a co-pay between three and eight dollars per detailed exchange.
The Cleveland Clinic told the newspaper that its maximum charges would top out at $50 per exchange for those without insurance, or those with high deductibles on private insurance plans.
Some experts worry the new practice could inhibit access to care.
A Jan. 2023 study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that notifying patients that a message could result in a bill led to reduced patient portal messaging. Some say this could prevent medical access for those concerned about the costs.
"This is a barrier that denies access and will result in hesitancy or fear to communicate and potentially harm patients with lower quality of care and outcomes at a much higher cost," Cynthia Fisher, the founder of a Massachusetts healthcare advocacy non-profit, told the Associated Press, via Insider.
"Increasing levels of communication and interactions with patients is a good thing," Kedar Mate, MD, chief executive at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, told The New York Times. "I worry about disincentivizing that by creating a financial barrier," he added.