Email pediatrics

The Pediatric Insider

© 2013 Roy Benaroch, MD

Newsflash: a recent study revealed that most parents – 77% – said they’d like to have access to email advice about minor health problems from their pediatrician. Yet only 6% said that they currently had that kind of service available.

If so many parents want it, why don’t more pediatricians offer it?

There are technical problems, especially concerning patient privacy. The HIPAA rules are fabulously complex, and physicians do not understand them. What we do understand is that violations can cost thousands and quickly bankrupt our practices. HIPAA has made all of us afraid to talk to each other, leave messages, and answer questions without reams of protective legal documents. You’ve seen those, and you’ve signed them. Perhaps you now feel safer.

Any sort of electronic communication has to be HIPAA secure, and the information has to be integrated into the medical record. There’s technology to do that, but it isn’t free.

Beyond that, many of us are concerned about a lack of face-to-face contact, which may further erode our relationships with patients. It’s fun to get to know kids and help people. It is less fun to type answers to strangers.

But the main reason for the lack of enthusiasm for email communication is revealed by that same survey: though most parents wanted to be able to email their pediatricians, about half thought it should be free.

I’d love to answer personal email questions from patients. For non-emergency things, and for many follow-up questions and progress updates, email would honestly be ideal. But I can’t spend my time in front of a computer if that means I can’t pay my rent and pay my staff. The current healthcare scheme means I only get paid for seeing patients, in the flesh. If people want to change that, I suggest they come up with a way to pay for it.

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5 Comments on “Email pediatrics”

  1. Mindy Says:

    Consider e-visits. My clinic has them and the patients pay for them. Not sure if insurance covers it. Pretty neat idea though I don’t know if it’s working well for people yet. The cost at my clinic is $35

    You could also consider having online access for just things like prescription refills and administrative stuff. My questions to my doc online usually consist of something along the lines of “This thing is happening, can I have a referral?” or “this thing is happening, do you think I should come in and be seen?”

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  2. Mindy Says:

    Or, think of it this way: What do you do when your patients’ parents call with a question? Do you answer the question? or do you have them come in? Wouldn’t you rather answer a question at the end of the day by typing up an email than have to take the time to call them? If it’s something you wouldn’t normally handle over the phone, tell them to come in.

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  3. jnpeds Says:

    It is also a question of volume. Because sending an email is so easy, I am pretty sure that pediatricians would be overwhelmed with an extremely high volume of emails that would take hours to answer. That is why our practice has been unwilling to initiate this type of communication. We just don’t have the time, either with or without compensation. We need to be able to spend time on our face to face patient encounters, as well as be able to go home at a reasonable time at the end of the day.

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  4. OMDG Says:

    The practice our daughter goes to does not field email questions. They will field phone questions though, but at a price: It usually takes about 30 minutes of your time waiting on hold, plus time for the nurse to call your back, for you to get an answer. Personally, I’d rather pay actual money than with my time. Unfortunately, I do not have that choice.

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  5. I would pay for this, especially if my insurance company would get on the ball and count it towards our deductible. It would be better than dragging all three of my kids to the office if I could get the situation handled via email. I think most people can appreciate that time is money for our doctors. I would also pay to speak to the doctor because, once again, it is a challenge to get to the office and frequently I don’t need to be face to face to solve a problem. The convenience would be awesome. I would not have to worry about trying to schedule an appointment or that I would have to wait a long time, etc.

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