Parents Like Idea of Emailing Doctors, But Not Paying for It

Parents want online options from children's health care providers; however, half of parents believe it should be free and providers are concerned about the feasibility of being on coll to answer emails.

Parents want online options from children’s health care providers, but half of them believe it should be free, according to a national survey by University of Michigan researchers.

The majority of parents (77%) said they would be likely to ask for advice by email about their children’s minor illnesses if that were possible. Only 6% said they were currently able to get email advice from their child’s health care provider.

The survey involved a total of 1,420 parents with children newborn through 17 years of age.

Parents said they paid co-pays for office visits that ranged from zero to $30/visit, but approximately half said that any charge for email consultations should be less than that of an office visit, and 48% said online consultation should be free.

Sarah J. Clark, MPH, associate director of the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit at the University of Michigan and associate director of this C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital poll, noted that an email could be available after hours when their caregiver’s office is closed. However, many health care providers have not established co-pays for email consultations. For their part, health care providers are also concerned about email consultations because patients do not understand the amount of unseen work involved with email consulting, such as reviewing patient records and documenting email exchanges within the patient record.

Additionally, providers are concerned about creating an expectation that they are on call to answer emails at all hours, which could result in delay in a child’s care if an email can’t be answered immediately. Ensuring privacy of the patient record during email exchanges is also a concern.