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Patients got used to emailing their doctors with health questions during the pandemic. Now hospitals are charging them.

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  • Hospitals are charging patients for their emails and other correspondence with doctors. 
  • Some hospital officials say the strategy increases healthcare access, but advocates worry charges could deter patients who need care. 
  • One study found that patient emails decreased following the implementation of paid correspondence. 

Patients got used to emailing their doctors for quick answers to health questions during the Covid pandemic. But for some patients, those messages are getting costly. 

Hospitals nationwide have begun to charge for emails and other correspondence with their doctors, the Associated Press reported. Charges can range from as little as $3 to as much as $100, according to NewsNation. 

“Every 15 or 20 dollars matters, because her money is running out,” Nina McCollum, who helps care for her 80-year-old mother, told the New York Times. 

After Covid led patients to avoid crowded hospitals and waiting rooms, and condense what used to be in-person visits to emails and video calls, hospitals say doctors spent more time responding to health question emails and messages, the Associated Press reported. The solution for hospital systems across the country has been charging for some of those offsite communications. 

“It’s really been a win-win for our physicians and our patients,” LeTesha Montgomery, senior vice president for system patient access at Houston Methodist, told the New York TImes. “So, it actually helped us increase access for our patients.”

But advocates worry the strategy will lead patients to avoid seeking care when they need it, for fear of being charged. 

“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,” Cynthia Fisher, the founder of a Massachusetts healthcare advocacy non-profit, told the Associated Press.  

A report published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine this month found that patients at one San Francisco hospital began to email doctors slightly less after paid communication was implemented. 

Researchers in the article implied the drop in messages may have been a result of patients’ “awareness of the possibility of being billed,” the report reads. 

“Increasing levels of communication and interactions with patients is a good thing,” Dr. Kedar Mate, chief executive at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, told the New York Times. “And I worry about disincentivizing that by creating a financial barrier.”

Read the original article on Business Insider