Medical Economics has published a good wrap up of physicians and email in their practices. As you plan to implement email in your own practice, this is a good background reader. Some of the key observations:
· According toa Manhattan Research survey, 31% of physicians currently use email to communicate with patients, and 1 in 4 of the non-users expect to implement email within the next year.
· Electronic messaging can simplify everyday business issues, such as scheduling appointments and processing medication refills.
· A recent Kaiser Permanente study found that patients who used the secure messaging service 14 percent fewer phone calls to their doctors.
· Time efficient – there is no wasted time dialing and waiting to for your patient to come to the phone. You can also start and stop as needed – you can’t do that with a phone call. E-mail is asynchronous; it eliminates back-and-forth phone tag.
· While a secure email system is generally encouraged, neither law nor regulation prohibits standard email services. Patient consent would be advisable here, as many patient’s have email accounts that are used by multiple people. Corporate email addresses are subject to being viewed the corporate IT departments as a routine matter. My advice: go with a secure system – it prevents inadvertent hassles.
Medem has posted guidelines for using email from the e-Risk Working Group for Healthcare, a consortium of professional liability carriers, medical societies and state licensure board representatives.
Phone calls and email should be treated equally – if you don’t charge for one, you shouldn’t charge for the other.
The best use for a practice is for prescription refills and appointment scheduling, which are handled by staff. Personally, I re-order prescriptions online from the mail order pharmacy, so using email would be helpful. An online appointment scheduling system would also be a time saver for all concerned – I can select the seats I prefer when a book a flight, so couldn’t I pick my preferred appointment slot with my physician?
The use of email and other online tools is spreading, and we are still learning how we to work with them effectively for both the practice and patients. Get in there now.