Many of us have gotten used to messaging with our doctors, especially during the pandemic. A growing number of hospitals and doctor's offices are now charging for this.
“We do think this is a big benefit for the patients it's another way to see their doctor,” said Dr. Eric Boose, a family medicine specialist with the Cleveland Clinic. “We know they've been asking for this care as they've been sending messages that sometimes are in-depth for a while now, and this will prevent them from actually having to come all the way into the office, take a half day off of work.”
The Cleveland Clinic is among hospital systems adding a charge for emails. They say they're not charging for most messages, just ones that take a considerable amount of the doctor's time.
The University of California, San Francisco Health is another system that has started charging for a small number of messages.
A recent study of their billing found there has been a small drop in the number of patient emails to doctors since the fee was added.
“I think health systems are very cognizant of alienating their patient population," said A. Jay Holmgren, an assistant professor with UCSF. “They're very cognizant that there are already disparities in access to care, especially in things like primary care. So there's a lot of focus on is this going to impact Medicaid or patients with lower socioeconomic status or patients whose first language is not English?"
He was part of a study looking at billing. He says this change isn't about health care systems trying to make extra money. It’s instead about preventing doctor burnout and giving them time to answer messages during the day instead of at lunch or after hours.
Here's what this ultimately means for you as a patient. The email fees vary and you should see a notice ahead of time that you'll be charged for the message.
Nearly all insurance companies are covering them.
But you may have to pay a copay of from $5 to $80 in some cases, like you'd pay for a regular doctor's visit.