Values Exchange

"Drop me a mail "

19 Dec 2018 7 Respondents
Vanessa Peutherer
Boss (11803 XP)
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"Drop me a mail "

All doctors have emails.  In this modern and developing era, utilising technology for communications between health professionals and service users is on the increase.  Some people have voiced a preference to have the option of contacting their primary care physician or their hospital consultant via email directly.  On the face of it, this preference could be seen as ideal to address quick and brief health and wellbeing concerns, either as a stand alone enquiry or as an adjunct add-on between physician & patient face to face,  and phone consultations.

It is easy to see that having the opportunity to contact your primary physician or hospital consultant via email would be beneficial for some, to save time and improve access.  For example, it is well known that surgery and hospital call lines are frequently busy, leaving you sat in a virtual cue ( with often annoying automated voice messages or music playing continuously in the background)  and many struggle to get through to their preferred doctor or even communicate with a doctor they are familiar with, reducing continuity of care.  Some may prefer this option also if they wish to receive simple clarification on individual health issues or simply receive results from tests, in a more personal and contextual way, which doesn,t require a receptionist saying whether results are either 'abnormal' or 'normal'. However, some doctors seem to object to or are hesitant to allow patients to contact them via email -  but why should this be? What are doctors worried about?

Some doctors say that email would take too much time out of an already busy schedule. On the other hand, other doctors who have begun to have email contact with patients find that this method of communication actually saves time, as this may reduce the need for patients to visit the surgery for a query which can be dealt with via email communication alone.

Doctors have also voiced concerns about the confidentiality of emails and the fact that email creates an electronic 'paper trail' .  Some fear that this trail may be used against them at some point in the future. Hospitals and healthcare organizations have been split on whether emails between doctor and patient should become a part of the patient medical record, and the implications of this in the realities of practice.

“A Harris Interactive poll found that 90 percent of patients wanted to exchange email with their doctors, but only 15 percent of patients actually did so. A New York Times article cited physician fears about email, including the concern that 'one sympathetic response (to a patient's question) could cascade into a flow of demands and questions.'

Doctors who do have email contact have found that these fears aren't valid. A doctor at Beth-Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston reported receiving six to 10 emails a day from patients and spending two minutes responding to each. He also reported receiving eight to 10 phone calls a day and spending three to five minutes on each (often after playing phone tag).

The American Medical Association developed a set of standards to guide physicians in their email communications with patients, where this type of communication is more common place. These guidelines include the suggestion that doctors 'establish a turnaround time for replying to messages from their patients;' 'exercise caution when using e-mail for urgent matters;' communicate their email policies and procedures to patients (including letting patients know who else will have access to messages) and letting patients know that their messages might be included in their medical record.

Doctors are also encouraged to 'acknowledge that they received patients' e-mail and ask them to acknowledge that they have read clinicians' messages' and to 'print and place messages from patients, their replies and confirmation of receipt in patients' paper charts, except when they determine that the messages contain highly sensitive information.'

In summary, email can become a convenient way to communicate brief information between visits if used with care. A telephone call usually interrupts a doctor already in consultation with others, and a face to face visit can take up to 10-15 minutes in reality. A  doctor can read and reply to email when he or she is able to, at their own convenience. Some argue that limits may need to be set with certain patients, similar to limits that are frequently set on telephone calls. At some point, email communication between doctors and patients will be as common as telephone contact. In reality we seem have a long way to go in accepting this communication as a beneficial adjunct to health care delivery.

What do you think ?

Would you like to be able to contact your primary care doctor or hospital consultant by email? Or do you think that this type of communication could be open to abuse and blur professional boundaries?

Bibliography and source of references


It is proposed that It should be standard practice for all service users to be able to contact their preferred health professional provider via email.

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