Speak Out: Do you respond to patients' questions sent via e-mail?

October 1, 2009

"The minute you start letting patients go down that path, where they're using e-mail to communicate, they'll take advantage of it."

They can also ask very open-ended, difficult questions. I would feel obligated to spend untold hours trying to respond. Last, but not least, there is no payment mechanism via the Internet.

The minute you start letting patients go down that path, where they're using e-mail to communicate, they'll take advantage of it."

"At the current time, we do not, but we are looking at it.

I've read articles, pro and con. Some say [e-mail] is convenient for patients to check labs or access information on their own time and it's easier with the staff so they don't have to play phone tag to make physical contact with the patients. However, other articles raise issues of liability. For me, [e-mail] should be crafted for routine functions, not acute medical care."

Peter J. Walter, MD
Jamestown, NY

"I don't respond directly. There are two or three patients who live far away, like one who lived overseas who would check in with us after surgeries, and we made an exception. In general, we haven't had patients ask, and we haven't offered.

We're trying to get more into the information age with a Web site where patients can download registrations, etc., but we're so stretched and challenged in providing care (there is room for two or three more urologists in our community), we are a little overwhelmed. We don't need to recruit more patients. Ours have to wait months to see us, so we don't feel we need to add one more place to lose a message."

P. Tryg Stratte, MD
Redding, CA

"I do not. I don't know how many of my patients would be interested, and I just find it easier to talk to them. I'm a lousy typist.

My kids try to get me to text and use my BlackBerry, but I just do better on the telephone talking to somebody. I can gauge what they're asking, what they are feeling, and I can respond more quickly and easily to them. I don't want people knowing my personal e-mail address, just like I don't give out my cell phone number.

Even if they send in a question on our office e-mail, I call them back. I just find it easier and quicker because sometimes their [e-mailed] questions just don't make any sense. It's easier to figure out what they're talking about in person than in a long e-mail."

Paul Rubin, MD
Lawrenceville, GA