Thoughts on Patient-Physician Email (Part 2)

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In part 1, I talked about barriers to patient-physician email. In this section, I'll discuss the many potential benefits of email communication between physicians and patients.

The time for the typical office visit has shrunk. Due to many factors including declining reimbursement and the need to see more patients per day, most office visits are now scheduled for 15 minutes or less. Neither physicians or patients are happy about this. Fifteen minutes is hardly enough time for adequate patient education or for forming a bond with your physician.

Enter email, a service which allows more time for physician patient-communication and helps people feel closer to their doctor. A few potential uses for email include:
  • Asking about lab results
  • Reporting potential side effects of medications
  • Clarifying whether it's safe to take a certain medication
  • Reporting home blood pressure readings
  • Reporting blood sugar readings
  • Giving positive feedback
  • Giving negative feedback
  • Asking for prescription renewals
  • Reporting new minor (but important) symptoms
  • Communication new medical issues when out of the country
  • And many others
Of course, any of these communications could also be made with a phone call -- but with a lot more hassle for everyone involved.

Take this example. Let's say a patient on a cholesterol lowering medication (Lipitor) has a twinge of pain in his left arm. He's heard that Lipitor can cause muscle problems, and is concerned that the twinge might be caused by the medication. One option is to schedule an office visit, but he's reluctant to do this for such a minor problem. Another option is to call the doctor's office, speak with a secretary (who would then take time deciding about the severity of the problem), have a note left for the doctor, who would then call him back later in the day to reassure him that this twinge doesn't represent a problem with Lipitor. Or the patient might not even ask the question, figuring that the pain is nothing significant, but still remain worried that it's a side effect of his medication and might even stop taking the Lipitor out of concern.

Alternatively, he could write an email describing the problem and receive a reply reassuring him that the pain is not consistent with a side effect from the Lipitor and he should make an appointment to be seen if it continues. Simple, almost effortless, and everyone is satisfied.

In part 3, I'll talk about ways of implementing patient-physician email.
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About the Author


MD, FACP, FASN

Dr. Schwimmer's blog explores the intersection of medicine, new technologies, and the Internet.

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