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Parents Favor Email Medical Consults for Kids' Minor Illnesses: Survey

But it's unclear how much -- or whether -- they should pay for this service

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WEDNESDAY, Oct. 23, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Most American parents would prefer email consultations with doctors instead of office visits when their kids have minor illnesses, a new poll finds.

But when it comes to paying for the online service, they're less enthusiastic.

Researchers surveyed more than 1,400 parents of children ranging in age from newborns to 17-year-olds, and found that 77 percent would likely seek email advice from a doctor if their child had a minor illness and if such an option were available. Just 6 percent of the parents said email advice currently was available from their child's doctor.

The parents said their co-payments when taking a child to the doctor's office ranged from free to $30 per visit. About half of the parents said any charge for an email consultation should be less than that of an office visit, and 48 percent of the parents said such a service should be free, the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital poll found.

"Most parents know it can be inconvenient to schedule and get to an office visit for a sick child," Sarah Clark, associate director of the poll and an associate research scientist in the pediatrics department, said in a university news release. "An email consultation would prevent the hassles of scheduling and allow sick children to remain at home. Email also could be available after hours when their caregiver's office is closed."

Clark said many doctors do not have co-payments established for email consultations and that the poll results appear to confirm doctors' concerns about such a service. Many feel that patients do not appreciate the unseen workload of email consultations, such as reviewing the child's medical history and documenting the email exchange in the child's medical record.

"Providers also worry about creating an expectation that they are on call to answer emails at all hours of the day," Clark said. "No one wants a child's care delayed if an email can't be answered right away."

Some doctors already offer email consultation along with a package of online or electronic services that can include family conferences, texting and Web chats, according to the news release. These often have a monthly or annual fee, instead of a fee per transaction.

"But given the overwhelming desire from parents for an email option, we hope these poll results can get the discussion started on the best way to use technology to get better, more convenient care options for young patients but still provide a workable solution for both providers and parents," Clark said.

More information

The Nemours Foundation offers advice about talking with your child's doctor.

SOURCE: University of Michigan, news release, Oct. 21, 2013


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