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Docs Balk, But Email Improves Patient Experience

Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media, April 3, 2013

I hate calling my doctor's office. I like my doctor, and I like her office staff, but calling is the worst.

It's a busy practice, so I often wait on ho ld for a few minutes before reaching a nurse who is not assigned to my physician. The appropriate nurse usually returns my call within the next hour or so, but by that point I don't even care about getting clarification on my lab results anymore.

Worse than calling my doctor's office is when the office calls me.

I don't answer my cellphone unless I recognize the exact number (and in case you think I'm in the minority here, not a one of my friends does either). And I keep my cellphone on silent while at work. These practices unfortunately result in a wonderful game of phone tag that only succeeds in leaving everyone frustrated and me wishing my doctor could just tweet my lab results at me, HIPAA be damned.

You can imagine my delight, then, when my doctor's practice enabled the email function on its patient portal. Now not only can I view my lab results, but also send a follow-up email in all of about 40 seconds. My doctor typically replies within a few hours and I don't mind the wait because I'm busy doing other things in the meantime, versus waiting on hold or staring at my phone.

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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.