A New Revenue Source: Email

Healthcare operators are discovering they can charge by the “send.” Will others follow?

For years, email was known as a drag on employees’ time, the cause of clogged inboxes and endless to-do lists. But as lawyers and other hourly billers have discovered, responding to client and customer emails can be a source of income.

The latest industry to charge for emails is healthcare. While pricing structures vary, providers typically charge anywhere from $15 to $70 for emails that require at least five minutes of medical decision-making. (Most do not charge for simple questions and prescription-refill requests.) “The tide has changed,” says Charlie Falcone, global leader of the Academic Health and Academic Medicine practices at Korn Ferry. “We’re coming into a world of access, which we should applaud because it is improving outcomes and revenue streams.”

The move comes following the expansion of telehealth shortly before the pandemic, and the explosion of telehealth options during it. Previously, it was not considered acceptable for medical providers to charge for emails, but Medicare and Medicaid began allowing it during the pandemic—just as many hospital and healthcare systems were financially hurting—when message volume increased by 50%. Today, pricing models are still evolving, with most providers likely charging for only a small percentage of their emails. Technology continues to be “a sort of gray zone,” says Falcone.

The risk, of course, is that patients and other customers do not reach out because they fear being charged, or that they feel like dollar signs, constantly facing creeping fees. “Itemizing an email could be a pretty hard way to engage,” says Juan Pablo González, sector leader for professional services at Korn Ferry. Professional-service companies have long found this to be the case: business-to-business customers tend to push back on itemized charges for emails and calls, balking at being billed thousands of dollars for mailroom and communication services that they may perceive as marginal. For that reason, many firms have moved toward tucking these costs into a lump sum of indirect fees, rather than itemizing them.

Experts say that communication about charges is paramount and suggest presenting the new fees as beneficial for customers as well. For example, if a professional can answer a client’s question over email, the client is saved the cost and hassle of an in-person appointment. Flo Falayi, associate client partner for leadership development and DEI at Korn Ferry, sees the ability to conduct business or care over email as a win-win. “At some point, you need to share some of the savings,” he says.


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