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Messaging or emailing your doctor? Be careful, it might cost you

If you have a question for your doctor, but it’s not an emergency, sending an email is the easiest way to communicate. But beware. Some doctors are now charging a fee to send emails or text messages.

Read on for details on why doctors are considering a fee for answering medical questions by email. 

Here’s the backstory

Any professional business that renders a service to the public usually charges for appointments or consultations. Even if you have only a few questions, doctors, lawyers and dentists (and even tattoo artists) will charge you for their time.

But a quick email is a good solution if you have a simple question and don’t need to see your doctor in person. This used to be a simple and free process that only took a few minutes to complete. Unfortunately, things might change and hit you in the pocketbook.

Even though the doctor isn’t seeing you in person or giving you an exam, it still takes time out of their schedule to reply to an email or text message. If several emails need a reply, it can consume a few hours of precious consultation time. That is why some medical practices now charge patients if they email the doctor. 

According to the New York Times, the $10 or $20 fee is needed to account for the doctor’s time. “Billing a patient’s health insurance supports the necessary decision-making and time commitment of our physicians and other advanced professional providers,” explains Angela Smith, a spokeswoman for the Cleveland Clinic.

However, replying to electronic communication isn’t a new thing. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a popular method for patients to stay in contact with their doctor.

At the same time, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services first introduced Medicare billing codes in 2019 so that physicians can charge for private medical messages.

What you can do about it

Understandably, not everybody is happy about this development. Some patients cannot regularly leave their homes, and traveling to a doctor’s office is challenging. On top of that, the co-payment can range from a few dollars to as high as $100, chipping into what little financial resources these patients have.

Then there is the doctor’s urgency to reply to as many emails or messages as possible, as people expect a prompt answer. “We know that this is a contributor to burnout. Burnout and resulting attrition in physicians’ work are becoming a crisis in our medical system,” Dr. Eve Rittenberg told the NYT.

Under current regulations, a doctor can’t charge a patient for electronic communications more than once a week. Prescription refills, appointment scheduling or follow-up care are usually free of charge.

So, before emailing your doctor, it is best to call and ask if there is a fee for emailing. Also, ask if there is a co-payment, what’s the turn-around time and how often they charge. Then, find out what types of questions incur a fee and which don’t.

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