Doctor-patient e-mail communication

June 24, 2007  |  General

Communication by e-mail is now routine for many people, including nearly all business people. E-mail would seem to be a perfect way for harried doctors to save time by using it to communicate with their often equally busy patients, yet this article in USA Today discusses why this has not happened to any meaningful extent. One concern is patient confidentiality. Another is an undesirable change in the doctor-patient relationship. But perhaps the most relevant reason is mind-set; most doctors I know believe a face-to-face encounter with patients and families is the best way to communicate and avoid misunderstanding. I can see ways e-mail could augment personal discussion, but I would want to make sure it did not replace it. Would you use the ability to communicate with your or your child’s doctor by e-mail?

Here is an interesting update on the question. It appeared in the October, 2007, issue of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Unfortunately, the article can only be read by subscribers to the journal, but the upshot was that, of 328 families offered the opportunity to communicate with the doctor by e-mail, 306 accepted. A survey of these families showed high satisfaction with the system, and doctors spent less time on the telephone.


  1. As a recent cancer patient, I would have welcomed the chance to exchange emails with my radiation oncologists when I was going through the side and aftereffects of my treatments. There were a few times when I probably should have an extra check-up, but I did not have that means of communication and just let things ride that really needed attention. I feel my trauma would have been lessened if I’d had the option of email communication.

    If I had a child, I’d rather speak to a doctor directly via telephone most of the time. The exception to this is if any instructions I needed to follow were too complex for voiced communications and then having the email option would be good so my child received the best care. I would hope, however, that if my child were in need of specific care that I could get her to direct medical care.

  2. Ms. Lee–Thanks for your insights. There are certainly some good arguments for e-mail. For one thing, it gives the patient a record (assuming they save it) of their doctor’s instructions. For another, it eliminates the problem of phone tag.

  3. I hunted for, found, and used my doctor’s email when I was going through a number of different sequences of testing to track down the source of persistent and irremediable fatigue. I realized that I had consulted specialists for what I thought were unrelated conditions, and that she was unaware of at least some of these consultations. To go through the histories and tests and results and recommendations would have taken far longer than the usual 15 minutes to half an hour.

    She has used email, in turn, quickly to send test results that would otherwise take her time, her NP’s time, and my time chasing each other by phone, to communicate, and then I might write them down wrong.

    When I’ve abused the privilege, or seem to have excessive concerns, she just says “Make an appointment,” and I do.

    There are some things we can do better with email than in person.

  4. Thanks for your comments.

    One useful thing about e-mail is that you can have a saved, written record of things.


  1. Relationship » Doctor-patient e-mail communication

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