Free for Caring? The Effect of Offering Free Online Medical-Consulting Services on Physician Performance in e-Health Care

Telemed J E Health. 2019 Oct;25(10):979-986. doi: 10.1089/tmj.2018.0216. Epub 2018 Dec 19.


Introduction:In online medical-consulting platforms, physicians answer medical questions and share health care knowledge with patients, which will bring them both economic returns and social returns. Little research has studied the free online medical-consulting services (FOMCS) and their influences on the performance of patients.Methods:An OLS specification-regression model with robust standard errors clustered at the physician level based on panel data in physician-month level, including 48,406 physicians in 4,452 hospitals in 139 months (August 2006-December 2017) from the largest online health care platform in China.Results:We find that FOMCS positively affects the performance of a physician. Specifically, we found that the 1% increase of FOMCS would help physicians receive an additional 3.1% paid consulting services and an 11.4% increase in income. In addition, this effect is enhanced for physicians due to a high pricing strategy and weakened for physicians with high platform-usage experience and professional titles.Conclusion:We provide evidence on the effect of FOMCS of physicians on their performance and explore this heterogeneous effect in three kinds of mechanisms: pricing of online medical-consulting services, usage experience of online health care platform, and the professional title of a physician. FOMCS can help quality physicians show their skilled abilities to potential patients to attract their business, make up for the lack of usage experience in online health care platforms, and provide an alternative way to build physicians' online reputations. Our results have implications for existing health management and e-health literature.

Keywords: e-health; free service; online medical consulting; performance; revenue; telemedicine.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • China
  • Databases, Factual
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Patient Compliance*
  • Referral and Consultation / economics*
  • Telemedicine*