The hidden problem when patients e-mail their doctor

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The number of physicians adopting e-mail has been distressingly low.

That’s a stark fact, especially when you consider that other industries have moved on from e-mail, using more instant forms of communication, like Twitter and other social networking tools.

There are a number of reasons, which have been discussed here in the past. They range from a lack of financial incentives for doctors to e-mail their patients to the bureaucracy that HIPAA places on electronic communication with patients.

But what if patients were allowed to freely e-mail their medical provider?

Well, sometimes you’d get long e-mails, says Bryan Vartabedian. There are some, when given the opportunity, who will write missives to their doctor, and sometimes, “too much information can cloud good communication.”

When talking face to face with patients, the conversation can be redirected. There’s no such influence in e-mail.

And consider the malpractice ramifications. As Dr. Vartabedian says, “every one of those 2,000 words is subject to legal discovery.”

Focusing electronic communication is a good idea. Patients will receive better-directed care, and office staff won’t be burdened with picking out the details within the e-mail that actually matter.

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