Washington: The next time you message your doctor to ask about a pesky cough or an itchy rash, you may want to check your bank account first — you could get a bill for the question.
Hospital systems around the country are rolling out fees for some messages that patients send to physicians, who they say are spending an increasing amount of time poring over online queries, some so complex that they require the level of medical expertise normally dispensed during an office visit.
Patient advocates, however, worry these new fees may deter people from reaching out to their doctor and that they add another layer of complexity to the U.S. health care system’s already opaque billing process.
“This is a barrier that denies access and will result in hesitancy or fear to communicate and potentially harm patients with lower quality of care and outcomes at a much higher cost,” said Cynthia Fisher, the founder of Patient Rights Advocate, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that pushes for hospital price transparency.
The explosion of telehealth over the last three years — driven by the COVID-19 outbreak and relaxed federal regulations for online care — prompted many doctors to adopt more robust telecommunication with their patients. Consultations that once happened in an office were converted to computer or smartphone visits. And health care systems invited patients to use new online portals to message their doctors with a question at any time, American Medical Association president Jack Resneck Jr. said.