Patients Push For Online Consultations, While Doctors Resist
Patients and health plans looking to cut costs are turning to consultations with physicians via e-mail, but many doctors are hesitant to use the technology in their practices, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. A recent poll found that 34 million patients would like to e-mail their doctors, but the Inquirer reports that many physicians do not favor the practice. Some health plans, including Blue Shield of California, are beginning to reimburse physicians for online consultations. Doctors typically earn $20 for each online consultation they conduct with plan members. Only nonemergency problems and administrative issues, such as scheduling and prescription refills, are handled online. Such contact is typically conducted through a system that requires patients to log on with a password, rather than via traditional e-mail. Some doctors worry that they will not be paid for online consultations. Others, saying that they are "overworked," worry that such systems will increase their workload. In addition, doctors say that providing online consultations will take too much time, be an "unreliable" form of communication and reduce patient compliance. The Inquirer reports that Blue Shield of California began testing the system in May 2000 by offering its 50,000 network doctors a secure system over which to conduct the consultations, but fewer than 3,000 physicians have enrolled (Pugh, Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/13).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.