Doctor/Patient Email Correspondence
It is difficult enough for those of us who write for a living to be able to effectively communicate through email. For example, “nuance” is so crucial, yet often unconsidered. This is especially important when it comes to a physician/patient relationship. It is worrisome what can be misconstrued or cause concern through email, or what can be misunderstood in terms of simple directions.
YES: It builds trust, says Dr. Kvedar.
Among the points to consider…
- Healthcare professionals are behind the curve, perhaps the last to adopt email to communicate with the people they serve.
- Patients are disadvantaged because email could help improve the quality of care.
- Concerns about privacy are overblown and can easily be resolved.
- Robust, clear and frequent communications [between provider and patient] builds a trusting, caring relationship with prospectively better outcomes.
- It’s good for business via improved office efficiency and patient retention.
NO: You miss too much, says Dr. Bierstock.
- Online communications eliminate the ability to interpret [silent] signals and diminish quality of care. The risk of misunderstanding is real.
- Beyond basic [administrative] matters, such as appointment scheduling, it is no way to practice medicine.
- The concept of relationship building that results in better care is too much of a generalization.
- Liability is a real concern. There is no shortage of attorneys willing to take on a case no matter how ludicrous the claim.
- Privacy issues are not easily dismissed. There’s no guarantee that messages will remain private.
AND don’t miss the back and forth range of reader comments.
“It is silly to think that less communication is better because some email communication might not be perfect. This assumes that face-to-face communication is all that accurate to begin with, and its not.”
“I have had an e-mail, phone and fax-based medical practice for about nine years. [It] is far more efficient… and I can accept more patients and lower their costs with these efficiencies.”
“We’ve all heard stories of the guy who went in with in ear ache and ended up with a vasectomy. So much for doctors reading patient reactions!”
While there may be no “right answer” to this inquiry, if email correspondence is to become a part of a medical practice, we seriously need to consider adding a communication and basic writing course to medical school studies.