Patrick J. Skerrett

Doctors debate use of email for communicating with their patients

Every now and then, I email one of my doctors or they email me. The communications aren’t anything fancy, mind you—requests for prescription refills, test results, and the like. Apparently, these electronic exchanges put me squarely in the middle of a hot debate among doctors.

The Wall Street Journal offered a peek into the controversy by asking two doctors to write about why they do, and don’t, use email to communicate with their patients.

Writing in favor of email was Dr. Joseph C. Kvedar, a dermatologist and founder of the Center for Connected Health, a Harvard-affiliated organization that aims to move health care from the hospital and doctor’s office into the day-to-day lives of people who need help. Taking the opposite side was Dr. Sam Bierstock, an ophthalmologist who is now the president of Champions in Healthcare, an information technology consulting group.

Kvedar believes that using email improves efficiency and avoids the frustration of phone tag. He also says that

making myself available via email gives my patients a sense of direct access to me. It sends a message that I care and that I’m available to answer questions in a timely manner. It builds a bond between us that has tangible benefits for my patients’ health.

Bierstock agrees that email may be useful for basic communication such as scheduling appointments or prescription refills. But he worries about the possible liability and legal ramifications. He also says that email is

no way to practice medicine. Providing care includes an ability to interpret body language, facial expressions and other silent forms of communication that allow doctors to assess patient reactions to information about their health (apprehension, fear, anxiety) and the accuracy of their responses to questions. Online communications eliminate the ability to interpret these important signals.

Both doctors make good points (you can read the entire article on the WSJ site), making me think that, at least for a while, the use of email will probably come down to personal preference, for doctors and the rest of us.

What’s your preference? Do you email your doctor, or wish you could? What do you think is appropriate to discuss with him or her by email, and what isn’t?

Related Information: Harvard Women’s Health Watch

Comments:

  1. Agus

    E-mail should not be used because it can be a very genuine and will not concern the reliability of the e-mail. at least momentarily, the use of email will likely come down to individual personal preference, to the physician and all of us. but it is better to immediately fulfill with our physician.

  2. kalyani

    hi
    This article is very interest and i got new thing.Through email also communicating patients really nice idea.

  3. dr All

    Its like two side of a coin.it definitely has its pro and con to communicate with email.i personally realise that those client you get that close to are the likely ones to put you as a professional in trouble.litigations is so much on the increase in medical practise.so i am not in support

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  5. Anonymous

    There are several services out there now that allows Doctors to actually speak with a patient via (their own platform). They can speak to a doctor and in most cases, even receive a prescription over the phone. There are even services that have applied the use of the iPhone4, iPad 2, and any Front Facing camera to allow the patient to call a doctor via video conferencing.

    Emails should not be used as it can be very illegitimate and it would question the credibility of the Email.

  6. Anonymous

    When eliciting health-related assessment information, then of course Dr. Bierstock’s assertions are accurate. Face to face encounters are often critical in order to elicit sensitive information and to observe subtle behavior.

  7. Razism

    Health is Wealth

  8. evan

    There are several services out there now that allows Doctors to actually speak with a patient via (their own platform). They can speak to a doctor and in most cases, even receive a prescription over the phone. There are even services that have applied the use of the iPhone4, iPad 2, and any Front Facing camera to allow the patient to call a doctor via video conferencing.

    Emails should not be used as it can be very illegitimate and it would question the credibility of the Email.

  9. Bloxorz 2

    Email for communicating with patients? Sorry but are you kidding? Now email, then skype and whole communicating will be virtual. You think this is right? I don’t think so. Alex

  10. aek (@aek2013 on Twitter)

    This is not an either/or proposition. A successful physician/patient relationship requires the right type of communication in the right setting at the right time. Context matters.

    The uses you described allow both patient and physician to attend to the relevant information in a timely manner without disrupting either’s scheduled appointments and demands.

    When eliciting health-related assessment information, then of course Dr. Bierstock’s assertions are accurate. Face to face encounters are often critical in order to elicit sensitive information and to observe subtle behavior.

    However, increasingly, direct encounters do not result in physicians actually looking at their patients. They are looking away and at screens or other equipment. He may want to visit this issue as a priority before focusing on the limits of email communication.