1. Health

How to Get Your Doctor to Return Telephone Calls or Email

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Updated January 18, 2011

Many patients find it's difficult to get their doctors to return a phone call or email. It's even difficult to get doctors to supply an email address to begin with. But there may be ways to encourage your doctor to communicate with you by return phone call or email.

(Note: please notice we said "return a phone call or email." We are not addressing the use of the phone or email when initiated by your doctor. Learn more about the difference.)

Using the phone or email may be very important to you for a handful of reasons. Maybe you live far away from the doctor's office and transportation is a problem. Or you may be too sick with flu symptoms or some other infectious disease, you're too sick to drag yourself to the office, and you're afraid of infecting others in the office waiting room. Perhaps you've discovered that the drug your doctor prescribed is too expensive, and you would like to discuss options and alternatives. A quick conversation by phone or email saves you both the hassle of the appointment system.

Yet most doctors resist returning phone calls or email. The problem is the difficulties of using the reimbursement codes and following the rules, particularly because not all insurance companies (or Medicare or Medicaid) will reimburse a doctor or another provider for returning calls or email. That leaves your doctor with a choice - either look at everyone's insurance plan before replying to a phone call or email, or replying without getting paid. It's a lousy position to put your doctor in unless you know he or she can get paid for the time spent emailing or phoning you back.

If you know your reasons for email are important, and you want to convince your doctor to return phone calls or email to you, then here are some steps you can try to get him or her to do so:

  1. Make yourself familiar with the rules and codes your doctor must abide by. Included in those rules is the myth your doctor might repeat to you: that HIPAA precludes the use of email. It doesn't.

  2. Contact your insurance company and ask if it reimburses your doctor for any of the phone and email CPT codes.

  3. If you know your insurance plan will reimburse your doctor for phone and email, then make a request in writing, stating that your insurance will reimburse for phone or email services. The, either mail your request, or deliver it in person to your doctor. Be sure to include your phone number and email address. (Remember, though, that your doctor can't be the first to contact you in order to adhere to the rules.)

  4. If you learn your doctor's time for email and return phone calls is not reimbursable, then ask your doctor if he or she would be willing to communicate with you in that manner, then bill you directly for the time. In this case, you will pay out of pocket. If you have a high deductible health insurance plan, this might work very well. Ask your tax preparer or accountant if such a payment to your doctor would be a qualified medical expense for either tax or HSA purposes.

If you find your doctor is totally unwilling to communicate with you either by phone or email, then you have three choices:

  • Forget about it - until your insurance company decides to begin reimbursing its doctors for these services. You might even press on your insurance company to consider such reimbursement for its in-network doctors.

  • Find another doctor who will. Here is how to change doctors. Be sure to consider your insurance and reimbursement when you inquire of a new doctor about communicating by phone or email.

  • Find a concierge doctor for your primary care. With a concierge (also called "boutique" doctor) there will be no question about returning phone calls, but be sure to ask whether this doctor communicates by email.

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