Parents: Email communication with docs should be free

Emailing doctors like you'd email a co-worker or a friend about a concern seems to be the modern way of communicating--but would you be willing to pay for it?

Parents polled by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital said no. While they said they'd love to get an email response from their child's healthcare provider about a minor visit rather than making a visit, roughly half of all respondents said such a process should come at no cost.

"Most parents know it can be inconvenient to schedule and get to an office visit for a sick child," Sarah Clark, associate director of the National Poll on Children's Health and an associate research scientist in the University of Michigan Department of Pediatrics, said in an announcement. "An email consultation would prevent the hassles of scheduling and allow sick children to remain at home. Email also could be available after hours when their caregiver's office is closed."

Many providers don't have co-pays established such consultations, which prompted the survey. The results, Clark said, are worrisome because patients don't take into account the "unseen workload" of consulting via email--like reviewing medical history, and documenting the email exchange in the child's medical record.

Overall, 1,420 parents were surveyed, and 77 percent said they'd seek email advice for their children's minor illness; only 6 percent said they already do so. Half of those polled said that email consults should cost less than an office visit, while 48 percent said it should be free.

The results jibe with an Atlantic survey from May that found only one in 10 Americans have ever emailed or texted with their doctor.

"Given the overwhelming desire from parents for an email option, we hope these poll results can get the discussion started on the best way to use technology to get better, more convenient care options for young patients but still provides a workable solution for both providers and parents," Clark said.

Just because most Americans haven't emailed or texted with their doctors, though, doesn't mean that they don't want to do so. In April, researchers from the University of California San Francisco found that a significant majority of uninsured and underinsured patients use texting and email, and would like to use it for healthcare services, as well.

To learn more:
- read the announcement


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