More Health Plans Look into Reimbursing Physicians for E-Mail Consultations
An increasing number of health plans are exploring the possibility of reimbursing physicians for e-mail consultations with patients, although several obstacles, including legal concerns, patient confidentiality issues and time requirements, remain, according to a feature in the current issue of HealthPlan, a magazine published by the American Association of Health Plans. Several health plans currently are conducting pilot projects, all aimed at determining whether the programs decrease patients' use of office visits and reduce health care costs. Downer's Grove, Ill.-based First Health, a PPO, launched its physician-patient e-mail program last January, offering the service to members enrolled in chronic care programs. Approximately 250,000 asthma, congestive heart failure and diabetes patients participate in the program, representing 15 employers who agreed to pay for the added benefit. Participants use a secure Web site to communicate with their physicians, answering standardized questions about criteria like weight, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Following each electronic consultation, a reimbursement claim is automatically submitted to First Health. First Health pays physicians $25 per Internet consultation -- about 60% of the reimbursement rate for a typical office visit. Blue Shield of California, ConnectiCare and Aetna are all piloting Healinx Corp.'s Internet-based webVisit system, which provides secure messaging, structured online consultations and online prescription-writing and renewal capabilities. In the Blue Shield pilot, participating physicians are reimbursed $20 per e-visit, while patients pay a small copay of no more than $10 per visit. ConnectiCare, which has contracted with ProHealth Physicians, a large primary care physician network, for the service, reimburses $25 per e-visit (Wynn, Health Plan, November/December 2001).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.