The future of patient-doctor emails

There continues to be a push for more docs to answer patients’ emails.  And not get paid for it.  The only way this will work is in a direct pay model where doctors are paid on a monthly basis and no insurance company is involved.  American Medical News discussed how more patients not only want to email their doctors but want a quick response as well.

  • Surveys have found that a large majority of patients are interested in online communication with their physicians. But other studies have found that patient satisfaction rates could take a significant dive if the messages aren’t responded to in an appropriate period of time.
  • For a report in the April-June issue of Quality Management in Health Care, Mayo Clinic researchers analyzed 323 messages randomly selected from 7,322 collected for the study. They found that nearly all messages sent Monday through Friday were opened within 12 hours. But on the weekend, 87.1% of messages weren’t opened in at least 36 hours.
  • There is no evidence that negative consequences or outcomes are associated with longer delays, Rohrer said. But researchers want to study further whether there should be a standard for how responses should be sent, and how delays in response times affect patient satisfaction and health care decision-making.
  • Other surveys have found a correlation between patient satisfaction and message response times. A 2003 survey of patients using an online messaging service at the University of California, Davis, Medical Centers’ primary care network found that all patients who received a response right away were “very satisfied.” The rate of those who were “very satisfied” dropped to 73.8% when a response didn’t come until the next day. The more the response time increased, the more satisfaction decreased.

Welcome to the future of patient emails.

Here is what I see happening:

  1. You won’t be paid for it.
  2. You will be dinged if your response time is slow.
  3. You could be sued if your response is slow
  4. You are liable if you wrongly make a diagnosis to a cryptic message.
  5. You will lose money because answering patient emails makes them NOT come in to the office.

When you have only 500-700 patients, like Josh at Atlas.MD, then it easier to answer these emails and since you are being paid, you don’t feel abused by it.

And, by the way, I get billed for every email I send to my lawyer at $300 an hour.

Doug Farrago is a family physician who blogs at Authentic Medicine.

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