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Should Docs Use Email to Talk to Patients?


The Wall Street Journal today features a discussion about whether docs should use email to communicate with patients.  There are many issues to consider including privacy, liability, exchange of accurate information, ability to “read” the patient, etc.  WSJ featured two opposing views on the matter.  The full article can be read here.

Dr. Joseph Kvedar — founder and director of the Center for Connected Health in Boston, which promotes the use of information technology to improve health care — is a proponent of email: “Sure, privacy is a problem with email. But it’s a problem with any communications system. Phone conversations can be overheard, patients’ paper files can be misplaced or left exposed to the view of people who shouldn’t see them, and so on. Emails can also end up in the wrong hands or be read by the wrong eyes.

“But such fears are overblown. Privacy can be protected to a great degree by encryption of email messages, or by the use of secure messaging applications that are often a feature of a patient portal or the electronic medical-records systems offered by physicians and hospitals….What’s more, I believe that patients understand the risks of email communication, and are willing to bear those risks in exchange for the more timely, useful and personal care that email can help bring about.”

“In my own experience, 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….Email can also help doctors retain patients.”

Dr. Sam Bierstock — founder and president of Champions in Healthcare, a health-care IT consulting group in Delray Beach, Fla. — took the opposing view: “In short, email can be useful for certain very basic patient-doctor communications, such as appointment scheduling, prescription refills and questions about drug dosages. But it 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.”

What are your thoughts?

One comment

  1. The internet regardless of what we think about it, is the way that many people communicate today. Many medical providers are using HIPPA compliant communication technologies like ConexMPS to communicate appropriate information with patients and more extensive information with their professional colleagues in a safe and protected manner.

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