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How much does MyChart cost?Increase in Chicago-area healthcare system charging for some messages

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A patient who seeks help from a doctor through an online portal may soon discover something new. That’s the doctor’s fee for online advice.

A growing number of healthcare systems in the Chicago area and throughout the country now charge approximately $35 or less for some types of messages sent through online patient portals such as MyChart. This is a trend that has sparked mixed reactions, with some saying it only seems fair, while others see it as cash in hand.

Locally, the North Shore University Health System began charging for some types of messages sent through its patient portal, North Shore Connect, earlier this month. Joined Northwestern Medicine and Lurie Children’s Hospital. Nationally, the Cleveland Clinic made headlines this month by announcing it would start charging some telecom charges. UCSF Health in California also charges for some messages.

Health system leaders say most messages remain free, requiring more than a few minutes of a doctor’s time and only charging for questions that in the past would have been worth an in-person visit. .

“Some of these messages are becoming increasingly complex, replacing phone calls and face-to-face consultations,” says Richard Gundling of the Healthcare Financial Management Association, a professional group of healthcare finance leaders. said the vice chairman. “After the pandemic, no one wants to sit in a waiting room. I have.”

However, some consumer advocates criticize the trend as greedy.

“This is big business in healthcare finding ways to benefit from all angles of patients,” said Cynthia Fisher, founder and president of Patient Advocacy, a Massachusetts-based advocacy group. .

She worries that some people will be hesitant to ask doctors questions for fear of being prosecuted. “It’s really disproportionately disadvantaged and hurts those who can least afford it,” she said.

NorthShore announced in an email to patients earlier this month that most messages will remain free, but patients can request new symptoms, medication adjustments, new prescriptions, chronic disease flare-ups, or any other necessary requests or questions. We have announced that fees may be charged for some requests and questions, such as. It takes a long time to check the patient’s medical history.

Fees are billed to patient insurance. On the North Shore, Medicare co-pays range from about $3 to $10, but patients with private insurance and Medicare Advantage may have co-pays similar to in-person and video visits. said Collette, a North Shore spokesperson. City. A patient without insurance costs him $35.

Patients must first agree to be billed before the doctor can answer their questions.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is driving more patients to seek virtual health options such as video and phone consultations,” Urban said in a statement. “In addition to online visits, messaging providers through a secure patient portal can offer consumers another way to receive quality, convenient, and accessible care. Messages are free, but may require more complex medical decisions and discussions for doctors to respond to their patients.”

Northwestern and Lurie, who were already charging for some messages, said MyChart messages rarely incur charges.

In the first three months of this year, Northwestern billed less than 1% of messages on its MyChart portal. He charges $35 per encounter, according to Northwestern University spokesman Christopher King.

Similarly, Lurie charged about 300 MyChart encounters last year. This is just a fraction of the approximately 300,000 messages received, said Dr. Ravi Patel, Lurie’s vice president of digital health.

“The intention here is not to charge a fee for MyChart messages,” Patel said, noting that patients can schedule appointments, follow-up after in-person appointments, or simply ask for a medication refill. I pointed out that you are not charged for your queries. .

“It’s really for when you have new problems, new symptoms, recurring symptoms, new rashes,” he said.

It’s another way for patients to access care, he said.

“Ten years ago, we were doing it in person. That was it,” Patel said, adding that Lurie now also does video visits. “The great thing about this is that now, 10 years later, the way she gets care has tripled, and hopefully she can see patients outside the hospital.”

John Hargraves, director of data strategy at the Healthcare Cost Institute, said the key to the health system is that doctors get paid for their time and patients don’t require a lot of effort or expertise. It states that it might be a matter of finding a balance between not overcharging for messages. , a non-profit organization that studies trends in healthcare spending.

He said it may be difficult for health systems to set exact parameters for which types of messages are charged and which are not.

But he expects the trend to grow.

“I don’t think we’re going to turn it back into a service that no one charges for,” he said. “Most things about healthcare and costs only go one way. If you know something is billable, it is rarely not billed.”

lschencker@chicagotribun.com

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Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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