By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
With very little encouragement, a professional colleague of ours will enthusiastically explain why her personal physician is an outstanding provider.
As it happens, her hero-physician is highly skilled, credentialed and experienced. But one of the top reasons that she will recommend her physician is that the practice actively uses text messages and patient-physician email to enhance communications and the service relationship.
If her doctor is running late for an appointment, the practice will notify her via a text message. When lab results are available, a notification email arrives. And if she—or any other patient—has a routine question for the doctor, a secure email system enables a patient-physician interaction.
For this patient, and many others in this practice, the benefits of email and text connectivity deliver a uniquely higher level of service than the competition. What’s more, this patient (and probably many others) enthusiastically makes referrals and recommendations.
Patient-Physician Emails: A Best Practice Standard
Of course, excellence in clinical care and positive outcomes are significant considerations. But from a patient’s perspective, a clearly differentiating factor is that this practice has stepped into the 21st century, using the contemporary digital tools that patients expect.
Surprisingly, fewer than one in three doctors in the US use email for patient communications. This also means that the majority of medical practices or hospitals have an opportunity to grab a competitive advantage by embracing patient-physician email.
Physicians opposed to the concept raise reasonable concerns, including compensation, workload issues and confidentiality constraints. But the reasons that encourage a change in mindset are growing:
- Patients are increasingly empowered as consumers and they say they want it
- Patients expect the same convenience factors common in other businesses
- Patients are willing to change providers for email and digital access
And perhaps the most compelling reason, according to a Kaiser Permanente study, is that patient-physician emails improve care quality. “One-third of chronic condition patients who exchanged emails with their care providers said the communication improved their care,” according to the Kaiser study published in The American Journal of Managed Care. Am J Manag Care. 2015;21(12):e632-e639
“Patients reported using email broadly to initiate conversations with their providers, and patients with higher out-of-pocket costs for in-person visits were more likely to choose e-mail as a first contact method,” the study concluded. “Use of secure emails reduced patients’ use of other types of healthcare and resulted in improved overall health.”
For additional insight, read: Physician Entrepreneur: Time to Embrace Patient Email Access.