"When I receive an e-mail from a patient, I have to consider that patient's relevant past history and recent history of illness, diagnostic options and what's the best course of action," said Davis. "That's not a simple thing to manage in all or even most circumstances. So that's where I think physicians are starting to think that having some expectation of payment for an e-mail consultation would be reasonable."
How much patients are willing to pay for the service, may not meet physicians' expectations. Half of the parents surveyed (49%) said they believed a co-pay for an email consultation should be less than a co-pay from an office visit and nearly half said e-mail consultations should be a free service.
Healthcare providers, however, are finding ways to work around these cost issues. Davis notes two ways that providers are working around the co-pay obstacle. One is a bill-as-you-go system that focuses on the provider tracking the e-mail exchanges and billing accordingly. The method hasn't proven to be popular, as it is already difficult to bill for telephone consultations, and billing per e-mail might cause patients to be hesitant to contact or follow up with providers.
A much more successful method is to charge a fee for e-mail services that comes as a package, Davis says.
"Let's just charge a general service fee to make certain that patients who want to have this service can buy it essentially as a bundled package, and just go ahead and use it if they have that particular service… That allows them to use the service as they need to whenever they need to, and pay a set flat rate accordingly."