Interim Physicians Blog

Should Physicians Use Email to Communicate With Patients?

Posted by Ken Teufel M.D. on Mar 13, 2014 9:04:07 PM

It's a "slippery slope," as they say. You either like it or you don't. In the Wall Street Journal, two doctors go head-to-head on this issue.

Dr. Joseph Kvedar is a staunch advocate for using email to communicate with patients:
"...making myself available via email gives my patients a sense of direct access to me. It sends a message that I care and that I'm available to answer questions in a timely manner. It builds a bond between us that has tangible benefits for my patients' health."

Dr. Sam Bierstock takes the opposite view:
"The doctor's office is where medicine should be practiced." He argues that "email raises privacy issues," and it's "a treasure chest for malpractice attorneys." Although Dr. Bierstock says email "can be useful for appointment scheduling and prescription refills...it is no way to practice medicine."

I appreciate the viewpoints on both sides of this issue. But, one of my concerns (not addressed in the Wall Street Journal article) is that many patients are either not able to communicate effectively by email or prefer direct, face-to-face contact. Then there's the concern about the importance of nonverbal communication that cannot be appreciated in an email message. Even if we support email communication with patients, we must also recognize that not all of our patients have computer skills or English proficiency.

Where do you stand on the use of email in communicating with patients?

Topics: Dr. Ken's Corner, Healthcare Technology