A national poll conducted for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan finds nearly half of responding parents believe there should be no co-pays for email consultations with physicians.

The hospital commissioned GfK Custom Research to do the survey of 1,420 adult parents in June because while primary care office co-pays generally range up to $30, co-pays for email consultations have not been established.

Six percent of respondents presently can get email advice from their primary care office and 77 percent would likely seek such advice if the service was available. But 49 percent said the co-pay should be $0. Forty-two percent of those who said a co-pay is reasonable for an email consultation believe it should be considerably less than the co-pay for an office visit.

“There were no differences in reasonable co-pay amounts based on parent education level or child age,” according to survey results. “However, parents of children with a chronic condition (who are more likely to have visits for minor illness) were more likely than parents of children without a chronic condition to cite $0 as a reasonable co-pay for an email consultation.”

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Poll results mirror concerns that providers have about email consultations, such as the unseen workload behind them to review records and document the exchange, the expectation of being on-call to answer emails at any hour, variable reimbursement patterns, and incurring costs to ensure the communications are secure, according to the conclusions from the hospital, which offers a solution to consider:

“Some health care practices are already offering email consultation as part of a package of online/electronic services that also includes family conferences, texting and Web chats. Rather than a per-transaction charge, these practices charge a monthly or annual fee for the package of services. Given this poll’s finding that most parents do not expect a co-pay for email consultation, instituting routine fees for e-communications might be a workable solution.”

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