One provider that has already started using this approach is Group Health Cooperative, a non-profit healthcare system based in Seattle, WA, which currently runs a successful e-mail consultation service, covered by a fee included in the patients' premium.
Matt Handley, MD, Associate Medical Director of Quality & Informatics at Group Health Cooperative is one of the group's many physicians who uses e-mail to communicate with his patients. He says the this payment structure enables GHC to maintain financial feasibility.
A Cost Cutter
Since in-person visits carrying a higher cost than e-mail consultations, Handley says the organization has been able to trim practice costs.
Davis also views e-mail as a cost cutter for medical practices, mainly because it allows doctors to focus on their most complex patients who need to visit the office in order to be properly treated. "We need the patients who have the more minor complaints taking care of themselves or using other modes of care that may not necessarily involve us," Davis said.
"A patient who may have cold symptoms should probably stay at home and use simple home remedies and not necessarily come in for a visit that day. If an e-mail note about those cold symptoms can help a doctor or a nurse tell a patient 'you don't need to come in today,' that appointment slot is still open for that patient who may have a worsening of their heart disease or diabetes that day."