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Docs Balk, But Email Improves Patient Experience

Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media, April 3, 2013

When I sit on hold, talk to a nurse, and wait an hour for my doctor to call me back, that is a negative patient experience.

When I email my doctor and receive a quick and informative reply that I can forever reference in the archive of my patient portal that is a positive experience.

A Prominent Detractor
It won't be an easy job for marketers to enact this drastic culture change, and physicians do have many legitimate concerns. In a candid blog post, Kevin Pho (a.k.a. Kevin MD) explains why he emailed with patients for two years before abandoning the practice, presumably never to start again.

"For sure, most patients loved using email," he writes. "The option to report any symptom or concern at any time of the day without having to bother with telephone menu prompts or dealing with the hassles of making appointments proved to be tremendously convenient. And for those questions that were straightforward and consisted of hardly two sentences at most, email at times was a definite time saver."

Two issues, however, concerned Pho enough that he ceased emailing with patients for good:

  1. Some patients either wrote unclear emails or misinterpreted his response, leading to confusion and complications.
  2. He worried that a diagnosis could be missed whenever an office visit was replaced with email communication.
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5 comments on "Docs Balk, But Email Improves Patient Experience"


Laura Marshall (4/8/2013 at 11:41 AM)
Ask the folks at Kaiser Permanente; their secure patient portal has been up and running for years now and from what I knew when I worked with their HIT folks in Oakland, the system worked well for patients AND physicians, cutting the amount of time office staff spent returning phone calls and reducing workload overall. Patients loved it, kept in touch better with their doctors, and it saved time all around.

Kristin Baird, RN, BSN,MHA (4/8/2013 at 7:40 AM)
Marianne, I'm glad you wrote about this issue. Email with physicians has been essential for me as I manage my mother's increasingly complex healthcare. Using the function in conjunction with the other portal features allows me to stay up on her results and pose non-urgent questions. I think that helping patients understand the difference between non-urgent and urgent issues will help. Marketers and practice managers will help facilitate the physician's comfort by establishing processes for efficiently screening emails for the physician.

Art Gross (4/6/2013 at 8:22 AM)
@Kay I agree that all communications with patients need to be secure and HIPAA compliant. I also agree with you about the complexities and costs of Patient Portals. However, encrypted secure email is easy to setup and cost less than $100 per account per year. Sending encrypted emails is as easy as sending regular emails. And all communication between a physicians office and patient is encrypted, secure and fully HIPAA compliant. The good news is that secure communication with patients is here today.