E-Mail in Medical Practice: My View
There is not enough time spent in face to face communication between patient and physician in the doctor-patient relationship. So many of the conflicts, errors and misunderstandings in medical practice are clearly related to deficiencies in communication. Even telephone communication may be inadequate in certain clinical situations. With the introduction of e-mail communication in medical practice, these obstructions to good medical care of the patient can only worsen unless attention is taken by both sides to avoid the wrong kind of e-mail communication.
My view is that the use of e-mail in medical practice should be very limited to simply the transmission of data between patient and physician where no discussion, explanation or detailing is necessary. In this context, the data the physician would send to the patient might include appointment dates or changes, laboratory values or results about which the patient would already be aware of the clinical significance, non-personal general health information and so forth. The data the patient would send to the physician might include appointment date requests or changes, specific self-monitoring information (such as blood sugars or weights)or non-urgent followup symptom reporting.
Issues of privacy of information also must be considered. It may be necessary to transmit this data only on secure server websites. Since consultations via e-mail should not be an e-mail activity, professional compensation specifically for appropriate use of e-mail would not be of significance.
Though, to some, my view of e-mail in medical practice might seem unduly constrained and conservative, I believe anything beyond the functions that I have written would be harmful to the profession. ..Maurice.