Should Doctors answer email (from patients) ?

When I attended a HIMSS conference on PHRs last month, (see my writeup in particular item 3.) one of the panelists, Dr Chan, discussed their (tethered PHR) – in particular the ability of patients to email their physician. (I am fortunate to be able to email my doctor). So I asked, Dr Chan, if email did not consume a lot of a Doctor’s time outside of their paid hours at a clinic or even their own practice.  In a similar vein, an author only known as “Amy” commented on an entry in that Doctors are not paid to answer email and some patients are loathe to pay for the functionality of emailing their doctor.

How does it change a physician’s job, if they establish an email relationship with their patients?

I suggest the following:

  1. The Doctor is not encumbered to answer email immediately. Though we may lead hyperconnected lives with smartphones and wifi, email replies can wait.
  2. Email is not a substitute for an office visit, doctors should not diagnose by email.
  3. Use email for follow up, answering simple questions such as: “Do I take the medication recently prescribed on a full stomach or before eating?

Some responses to the KevinMD blog post, questioned why Doctors should work outside of their normal office hours by answering email. I wonder which professions today are limited to “office hours” ? Email does offer a Doctor the opportunity to answer patient questions asynchronously, meaning when the Doctor wants to, versus a phone call that requires the Doctor to answer immediately.


2 thoughts on “Should Doctors answer email (from patients) ?

  1. Hi Jonathan,

    Did you see HMO regulation that might occur soon in CA?

    From FierceHealthcare
    The new rules, from the California Department of Managed Health Care, will require……………doctors’ offices will have to return telephone calls within 30 minutes, and make themselves available 24 hours a day.””””

    I wonder if email could help in meeting these new requirements

    • Interesting, but I highly doubt it is feasible. My clinic answers phone messages within about four hours and email within perhaps three days. I am guessing the volume of email is far greater than phone messages.

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