Monday, May 05, 2008

EMail and Money

There are 3 undeniable facts regarding email:

  • Insurers and Medicare do not pay for email communication.
  • Patients want email communication.
  • If possible, doing what customers want is good for business.

EMail is a great way to communicate. Unfortunately, very few doctors have embraced it. I think that email can be used in a medical practice safely and in compliance with HIPAA, and doing so can help the bottom-line as well.

EMail is unobtrusive and permanent. These 2 features make it ideal for the medical doctor. Patients can ask their questions when it is convenient for them to ask and the doctor can reply when they have time to answer. Since email is so considerate of one's time, a doctor that uses it can answer patients without feeling rushed. They can compose their thoughts and answer questions clearly and completely; all from the comfort of their own beds or during a dull 3 year old birthday party. In addition, the records can be saved in the patient chart for all to see, thus
there can never be a "he said-she said" type argument in case of any future adverse events.

Email communication makes sense monetarily as well. First, young and busy patients want it and need it. For them, email is a way of life and for many of these people, time is more valuable than money. These are the kinds of people you want in your practice. These patients also have mouths and talk and will help build your practice with patients like themselves.

Secondly, having people come to your office to discuss something that can be handled quickly by email is, in my view, penny-wise and pound foolish. If the patient's question can be handled satisfactorily by email, doing so will free up a slot for a better paying new patient or procedure. Why spend 15 minutes explaining something for $30, when you can spend 15 minutes doing something for $200? The patient will appreciate that you value their time as well. In my experience, patients are glad to come in and spend their time and money if we tried first to deliver their care by email. Third, new patients often make first contact with me by email and ultimately they often become paying customers of mine. So from an indirect perspective, email can make financial sense.

From a more direct perspective, an entrepreneurial type physician or manager can come-up with a solution so that patients will pay for the privilege of communicating by email. While I don't do any of the following, some practices may charge per email while others will charge a monthly fee, yet others might offer the service as a "premium" type offering. The details of these types of arrangements will vary depending upon payer mix and contractual obligations, but often enterprising, smart people can find a way to make it happen in a way that is both acceptable to patient and insurance company alike.

While email is not perfect, nothing is better either. With email, contrary to commonplace fears, a physician's time will be made more valuable, rather than less.

Let me know how it goes.

The IU.