The overwhelming majority of parents would like to be able to email their child’s pediatrician, according to a new study conducted by Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. The Baltimore Sun reports that “most pediatricians are not swapping e-mail with parents. While e-mail and text-messaging have crept into nearly every corner of daily life, they’ve made few inroads into doctor-patient communications.”
Dr. Michael Crocetti, the lead researcher in the study, gives a slew of reasons as to why emailing patients may not be a good idea:
* Doctors fear that parents will use e-mail in emergency situations.
* Email may lead to misunderstandings because tone is so easily lost online.
* Doctors are concerned a message sent to a non-secure computer is a privacy violation.
* Doctors worry that emailing with patients puts them on call 24/7 and wonder if they can charge for computer visits.
“These questions loom so large that MedStar Health, which has six hospitals in Maryland and three in Washington, advises its doctors not to communicate with patients by e-mail.” But in Manhattan, Columbia Westside Pediatrics communicates with its patients via a messaging system called RelayHealth, offering “secure connectivity solutions for healthcare.” They’ve been using it since at least 2005 (when my daughter was born). Doctors and patients don’t email one another directly, but receive notifications to their email inbox that they have a RelayHealth message waiting. That kind of messaging service allows parents to ask questions about things that might not warrant an office visit but are worrisome nonetheless, and it allows doctors to send information to all of their patients at once via one simple message, such as “We now have H1N1 vaccine in stock.”
Crocetti believes “the e-mail revolution will come to medicine. And patients and doctors will ultimately benefit.” He acknowledges “there is the possibility that doctors will become swamped with e-mail and not be reimbursed for answering it,” but “most doctors aren’t reimbursed for telephone consultations, either.”
Do you email with your child’s pediatrician? If so, have you found it convenient and secure? If you don’t currently communicate online with your family doctor, would you like to be able to?