Doctors and Email
I tried to phone a patient last night with the results of her bone density test. She wasn't home and the thought of playing phone tag for the next few days was not appealing. I asked her husband for her email address and emailed her the results with my recommendations. Mission accomplished!
Everyone emails. My son chats online with all of his friends together every night. You can order shoes online (Zappos is great), do banking online, make reservations online, even hire gardeners online...but you can't communicate with your physician online. There is a web revolution and medicine is still in the last century.
A 2002 Harris poll found 70% of patients wanted online access to their doctors and 40% would pay for it. Although it is now 2007, not much has changed. Medicine is astonishingly behind the rest of the world. From the physician view, here's why:
Doctors want to reduce their cost of business and their staff time. They see email as a new service that will not be reimbursed. They worry about opening a floodgate of trivial emails with the expectation of a physician response. They worry that serious health issues will be presented in email that should be seen in person. They know they are already performing hours of unreimbursed work a day and don't want to voluntarily make it worse. For physicians time is money and this is just more time without money. They worry about security issues and lawsuits.
The physicians that are practicing "concierge medicine" (also known as retainer practices) have it figured out by charging a joining fee that covers email and phone calls. The rest of us just adopt email one by one. For me it is a time saver. Nothing is worse than ending my day with a stack of charts, labs and phone messages that need to be returned. Last night I did that for 2 hours and my mood was bad. Email saves me time and is quicker than the phone call. Both are unreimbursed but email is a patient pleaser and a bad mood never comes through electronically.