Emailing Patients: Profitable? Yes -- Here's How

Batya Swift Yasgur, MA, LMSW

Disclosures

June 13, 2012

In This Article

Introduction

For most Americans, email is as indispensable as the telephone. But according to a 2010 national survey conducted by the Center for Studying Health System Change (CSHSC), only 6.7% of office-based physicians routinely email with patients.

Those who don't want to email with patients insist that it's a black hole that sucks time and energy and creates an unending monster. Others swear that it has made their workday more efficient and profitable and that it's possible to tackle and neutralize most of the downsides that come with patient email communications.

"For far too long, medicine -- where communication is so important -- has operated without benefits of basic technological tools that we use to communicate in nearly every other area of our personal and business lives," says Deven McGraw, JD, MPH, Director of the Health Privacy Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology and Co-chair of the Privacy & Security Tiger Team (a working group of the Federal Health IT Policy Committee).

Not everyone agrees. "Physicians have some very good reasons to avoid emails," states Kirk Nahra, an attorney based in Washington, DC, and former Co-chair of the Confidentiality, Privacy, and Security Workgroup, a government and private-sector panel advising the American Health Information Community (AHIC).

"Why be so readily available, creating expectations of constant accessibility? And there are risks, including privacy and security issues and potential malpractice. Frankly," he adds, "there's little upside and a fair amount of downside."

Physicians are reluctant to email because of concerns about increased workload, privacy and security, medical liability, lack of reimbursement, and the uncertain impact of emails on patient care, according to the CSHSC survey.

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