Physicians Will Email Patients If Reimbursed–Ba Humbug!!

MD email

Earlier this week I came across an article on Forbes titled: “How To Get Doctors To Email Their Patients” (click title to see original article) It was written by Leah Binder of The Leapfrog Group. (@leahbinder)

The article references a research publication from Health Affairs entitled, “Patient to Physician Messaging…

The takeaways from the article are the following:

1. Patients want to communicate with physicians

2. Email is a convenient form of communication that patients (not all patients) would like to leverage

3. Physicians do not use email to communicate with patients due to security, confidentiality, and other technological constraints

4. Physicians will use email more if we reimburse them for their time…Ba Humbug!

I agree that reimbursement is a lever that can be used to change behaviors.

I disagree that it is the best lever, the only lever, or even the right lever to use.

I believe we have to be realistic and begin to think of what we can do today, to take action, versus pointing out that the system is broken and money rules all.

What are some things that we can do today?

1. Empathy


Most of the physicians I know, have worked with, alongside, or been employed by have all shared the same commonality–>they became a physician to help people.

When we take the time to DEFINE how patients want to communicate, the topics that they would like to communicate about, and their expectations on a response we can then share this information with physicians.

When physicians understand the need and expectation of their patients, most are willing to accommodate.

2. Productivity


The study points that the majority of emails were received by primary care physicians, and at an Academic Medical Center. My assumption based on my experience is that it is likely that these physicians are employees of the healthcare system versus owning their practice.

The driving factor is not reimbursement, but the productivity models set forth by the healthcare system.

Healthcare leaders need to build email correspondence into their productivity modeling.

3. Diagnosis is KING

diagnosis 2

All of healthcare, organizations and physicians, need to focus on the diagnosis.

Patient emails are almost always tied to a diagnosis. As a patient I have something that is wrong with me, the physician told me what it is, and they prescribed for me to do A, B, and C.

Did I remember what my physicians told me? I wish I would have asked my doctor the following questions. I wish I knew who to ask.

The more time a physicians communicates the information around a diagnosis to a patient the more likely a patient is willing to understand, care, and follow the recommendations.

It is first done verbally. It should then be done in a written form before the patient leaves. It can then be enhanced via email, phone call, or pick your preferred channel, to ensure there are no further questions.

I get it. We live in a world full of scientific driven actions in healthcare.

Yet we lack the common sense at times to look up from our tablet, our smart phones, our research papers, our streams of data to connect with the person in front of us.

Do I really need a research article to tell me that patients want to connect with physicians? No. Do I need a research article to tell me that some patients want to leverage email? No. Do I need research to talk to my physicians and help them understand that their patients want to use email? No. Do I need research to change the behaviors of physicians? Maybe.

In my experience, if you lead with empathy from both the patient and the physician perspectives, you can influence changes to occur without the research.

Each patient community is slightly different. As leaders we need to take the time to understand what works in each community. If it is email, then define the additional expectations on timeliness of response and the topics that are in and out of scope.

Share with your physicians. Use common sense. Connect with your community in the way they want to communicate.

When we look outside of our healthcare walls, sometimes the simplest solution is the most effective.

Let’s be more productive by focusing less energy on what is broken with healthcare. Spend the time and energy defining what we can do, and then take action.

That’s where the real “science” exists.

As always, you can feel free to contact me at: CANCERGEEK@GMAIL.COM or follow me on twitter @cancergeek



One response to “Physicians Will Email Patients If Reimbursed–Ba Humbug!!

  1. Excellent points Andy! I’m fortunate enough to have a primary care physician who uses email daily, and its been helpful in managing certain conditions.

    I’m not surprised to learn that most physicians require reimbursement to take on this task. The U.S. has created a healthcare system where CPT’s and RVU’s unfortunately drive behavior of healthcare systems. It is a major challenge in the transition from a fee-for-service system that pays for volume, to a healthcare system that rewards providers on care quality and patient satisfaction.

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