Emails are a basic part of our days. We wake up, shower, have breakfast, and check our emails. In fact, when our phones light up we quickly glance to see if we received an important email. We receive emails from loved ones, professional emails regarding that job we applied to, update from stores we’re subscribed to, and doctors also receive emails from medical journals. What about patients? How many doctors receive and send emails to their patients? Studies have shown that 90% of patients in the U.S would like to communicate with their doctors via email. Unfortunately only 10% of patients do get that kind of communication. So the lack of email communication isn’t down to the patients, but mainly because of the doctors.
There are so many arguments for and against emailing patients. Some doctors believe it helps establish a better connection with patients which may improve outcomes. Others believe that emails take away from the personal experience which could have a negative impact on decision making and patient well-being. There’s also the issue of money. Are doctors being paid for this communication? It’s certainly a new topic in the world of medicine, but in the modern day it’s easy to see emails being an integral part of medicine soon enough.
The first argument for using emails to communicate with patients is that it will make helping patients easier. Patients can get nervous in a doctor’s office. They’re uncomfortable and they’re hearing all this medical terminology that they don’t understand. They’ve also been waiting for over 30 minutes for their turn. By the time a patient gets to see the doctor they’re already nervous and have forgotten things they wanted to ask the doctor about. This can be made worse if the duration of the appointment is too short and the patient doesn’t have time to recollect their thoughts. Here’s where emails come in. If you’re emailing a doctor you’re sitting at home comfortable and calm. You have everything you want to ask ready and prepared. You also have access to the internet and can look up medical terms that you don’t understand. This communication will also build the doctor patient relationship as they spend more time communicating. A better relationship will result in the patient following a doctor’s instructions more closely which will eventually mean better outcomes.
Emails can also be good for business. Patients calling a doctor’s office can result in too much time being wasted on the phone. Studies have shown that offices who use email to communicate with patients receive fewer phone calls. If you think emails will take up more time then you’re not right, because they end up saving time. And like we mentioned emails can result in a better doctor patient relationship which means patients will be less likely to leave you and seek other doctors because they already have a great connection with you. Some doctors worry about legal and privacy issues of emailing patients. They shouldn’t. Emailing can have multiple benefits and we shouldn’t let worrying about issues like these which can be avoided with simple measures get in the way.
There’s the other side of the argument which most doctors seem to side with which is that emails aren’t useful and can in fact be bad for patients. These doctors can’t deny that emails can be useful if patients have a question about drug dosage, prescription refills, and scheduling appointments. They believe, however, that that’s the extent of it. One of the major arguments against emails is that there’s no face to face interaction. It is known that the non-verbal component makes up over 90% of communication while the verbal component makes up less than 10% of it. By emailing patients you’re losing over 90% of your communication with them. Body language is an essential part of any conversation and even if we can’t consciously understand it, our body reacts to the body language of other people. A good doctor is one who can read the body language of his or her patients. When you email a patient then you lose the element of body language 100%. You also lose the impact of hearing their tone and voice which could also reflect how a person feels. A patient may be too afraid or embarrassed to express something, but sensing body language, tone, and voice can help the doctor know that. When a patient sends an email the doctor doesn’t get any of that which can result in poorer outcomes. Patients may also react poorly to news or information given via email. A patient receives bad news, panics, and looks up misleading information on the internet. There’s no way to control their reaction online, but if they’re in your office then you can explain everything fully and calm them down if you notice any anxiety or panic.
We said emails can help build better relationships between doctors and patients, but that’s not always true. This all depends on the nature of the doctor and patient. Some patients can be demanding and rude, while others will be calm and understanding. Some doctors will take their time with emails while others will rush through them hastily and without paying much attention. Like we said emails can also leave the door open for multiple legal issues. A patient may misunderstand data given via email and as a result consequences could occur. This would result in the doctor being sued. Since this is happening through email, you can’t see a patient’s facial expression and have no way of knowing whether or not they understood what you’re trying to say or not.
Another issue is that these emails are often incorporated with a patient’s electronic health record. This would be great if it worked perfectly, but sadly it doesn’t. An electronic health record may miss a diagnosis or new symptoms that were mentioned in an email which will mean that the electronic health record is missing certain data. In order to make sure that doesn’t happen a doctor will have to read the emails along with the health record which would take a long time, or someone would have to manually add data to the health record from emails which would also take a lot of time.
Basically nothing is perfect, and new technology will always have its advantages and disadvantages. There are lots of benefits for emails, but also lots of risks. Multiple factors can determine whether or not emails will be useful for a patient. Until the matter is perfected by software being made that allows the exchange of medical emails between patients and doctors, emails should be used with certain precautions. For instance, there’s no problem or risk about a patient asking about the dosage of the drugs they’re taking or scheduling an appointment via email. If a patient has a question then they should ask the doctor about it through email and if the doctor judges it to be not a big deal then they can reply. If the doctor feels like the issue would better be addressed in person then they can reply to the patient saying that they’d rather see them at the office to discuss this. Doctors should also refrain from giving bad news or diagnoses through emails as you have no idea how the patient will take the news and what their reaction can be.
Doctors can also take care of being as clear as possible to avoid any misunderstandings and ask patients to reply confirming whether or not they understood clearly. Basically emails can be really helpful for patients and many of them would like to have the option of emailing their doctor, but it should be used carefully in order to avoid any misunderstandings or negative outcomes.