The new service from the medical Web site Medem will allow patients to put questions of a clinical nature to their doctors on-line. The service includes mandatory security and optional payment functionality. The physician has the ability to reply directly to the patient and to include information from medical information Web sites.
Medem already provides a secure e-mail service which allows doctors to communicate confidentially with patients. Out of the 83,000 physicians with Web sites in Medem's network, just 8,000 currently use the secure messaging feature, mostly for administrative communications, such as appointment requests and prescription refills.
Dr. Ed Fotsch, CEO of Medem, told reporters at the launch of the service last week that the new consultation feature had been two years in development, due to its complexity.
"Conceptually it seems easy," Fotsch said. "But when you drill into the details there are a lot of issues that come up. There are liability issues, there are security issues, there are privacy issues, and there are physician productivity issues. Most physicians are not looking for more things to fill their day."
Patients pay for consultations with a credit card, although few insurance companies are expected to reimburse patients for the "visits." It is expected that physicians will charge between USD20 to USD30 per on-line visit.
San Francisco-based Medem says the service meets so-called eRisk guidelines for on-line medicine, which have been endorsed by 33 malpractice carriers, the American Medical Association and other medical societies.
According to Robert Leitman, the group president of healthcare education and public policy at Harris Interactive, 66 percent of Americans have Internet access and 80 percent of those use the Internet to find medical information. Seventy-five percent of those would like to use the Internet to fix appointments, get new prescriptions and receive the results of medical tests. One-third of those surveyed by Harris Interactive said that they would be willing to pay for these services.
Less than 5 percent of the doctors in Medem's network are overseas, in Europe, Asia and Latin America. More information is available at the Medem Web site.