Sunday, April 27, 2008

Life Without Email? Wassup, Doc?

So a diabetic walks into an endo's office and says, "Hey Doc, can I get your email address in case I have any follow-up questions?" And the doctor replies, "Sorry, we do medicine, not email."
I made that up myself. No, really... I did.

But don't laugh too hard. There is actual proof now that doctors who are willing to email with their patients are a rare breed indeed. I'm very lucky to have found one -- well, a few actually -- here in the tech-savvy SF Bay Area who were willing to take the plunge. Why isn't email contact with your healthcare provider more common across the country, what with it being so darn convenient, and let's face it, pretty much the lifeblood of the business world these days? In many ways, email functions as our portal to the world, no?

What's standing in the way is primarily fear, apparently. Fear of being overwhelmed by yet one more responsibility, of not being reimbursed for time spent answering emails, of patient privacy concerns, and of course, of legal liability if patients are unhappy with email interaction, or if anything said there should result in negative health consequences. Fair enough. Those are legitimate concerns.

But electronic communication is now a fact of life. It's used for virtually ever other aspect of commerce in this country. "People are able to file their taxes online, buy and sell household goods, and manage their financial accounts," says Susannah Fox of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. "The health care industry seems to be lagging behind other industries." Ya think?
But doctors will continue to resist as long as they have no support on the concerns mentioned above. So once again, all arrows seem to point back to the need to reform our healthcare system, in this case to address and support the way people interact in this century.

Oddly enough, the pharma industry hasn't wasted too much time finding ways to use email to reach out to doctors -- bombarding them with "ePromotions," and more recently, electronic drug alerts. Meanwhile experts have been touting the benefits of email to the physician-patient relationship since the year 2000 at least. But doctors are still holding back, for all the practical reasons mentioned (read the comments on that post).

According to this story ("It's no LOL"): "It's not the first time the medical field has been slow to embrace technology. When the first telephones became widely available in the late 1800s, doctors were concerned about being swamped with calls." But the medical establishment is expected to come around on the email issue eventually. Hmm, I wonder how many more decades before they embrace Social Media?

So, how many of you actually exchange emails with your doctors? I can't tell you how happy it makes me to receive my lab slips as an email attachment in two minutes, rather than waiting for them to arrive via Snail Mail, and then misplacing the envelope. Even my daughters' pediatrician sends me quick replies, usually with a nice side query as to how we're all doing. How lucky are we?

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