PAMF doctors give patients a break: Free e-messaging
March 1, 2011
It used to cost $60 a year to have an online conversation with doctors affiliated with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. Now the service is free.
The March 1 change affects 250,000 PAMF patients enrolled in My Health Online, including 38,491 in Santa Cruz County, a number that has doubled in two years.
About 57 percent of the foundation’s patients in Santa Cruz County have signed up, according to Mark Riley, spokesman for the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz.
“I like not having to stay on hold on the telephone waiting to make an appointment,” said Linda Bergthold, a Santa Cruz health policy consultant.
That’s not all.
She also likes being able to schedule doctor’s appointments online at her convenience, being able to e-mail her doctor about minor symptoms to be sure they don’t turn out to be major, getting test results almost immediately and being able to compare them with last year’s results, and renewing prescriptions online.
“All these things I can do from my computer at home, in my own time when it’s convenient for me — and now at no cost,” she said.
“E-visits, when clinically appropriate, are also free,” added Dr. Larry deGhetaldi, who heads Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz, though he noted insurers do not reimburse physicians for time spent responding to patient e-mails.
About 39 percent of doctors in the United States e-mail their patients, according to the most recent survey by Manhattan Research.
Kaiser Permanente is among the leaders, with an e-mail system on its website and doctors responding within two days. The cost is built into overhead rather than charging patients extra.
More doctors are likely to jump on the e-mail bandwagon in part because the 2009 economic stimulus bill contained financial incentives to invest in electronic medical records.
PAMF officials said the switch was made in response to suggestions from patients.
“We have listened,” the foundation said Tuesday morning in an e-mail to patients. “With e-messaging, you can send a secure electronic message to your doctor and other members of your health care team at anytime and from anywhere you have computer access.”
Patients can expect a response to your message within one to two business days, according to the foundation.
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