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Docs Balk, But Email Improves Patient Experience

Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media, April 3, 2013

These are both valid points marketers should consider when moving forward with any doctor-patient email plan. But unlike Pho, I believe the adoption of communicating with patients about their care over email is unavoidable, so it's in a provider's interest to move forward as best as possible.

Perhaps one way to prevent superfluous or confusing emails is to create guidelines to set expectations for both patients and physicians. At the outset, perhaps instruct patients to only email their physician when they are seeking clarification or asking a minor question. For example, "Is it okay to get a flu shot while pregnant?" versus "My chest has felt tight lately, what should I do?"

Patients and physicians should understand that email must never be used for diagnosing symptoms. And, of course, doctors should be empowered to tell patients to schedule an appointment if they are using email incorrectly or excessively.

It won't be an easy road ahead, for marketers or physicians, but healthcare can't continue to lag behind other industries in using email to communicate with its customers.

Remember what happened to Blockbuster when it refused to upload streaming movies online? Make sure your organization is the Netflix of this metaphor.

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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.