From an Oncologist's Notebook: Emailing My Patients

Kevin Knopf, MD Health Guide
  • Not all doctors email patients, nor for that matter do all doctors email each other - but I have found it to be helpful for many patients. Not all patients have my email account, but for some patients for whom it seems appropriate I have given out my office email address.


    Being able to email other doctors has been a huge blessing and a huge advance. I can make a referral to another specialist online, attach documents, or sort out questions without having to interrupt her or his day with a phone call. Our office does not have an electronic health record (HER or sometimes EMR) - being a four person group it's hard to see how we can afford to buy one - but I type notes on many patients.

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    Some patients like to communicate by email, and for many routine questions it's a reasonable approach. For many patients a simple question can be dealt with by email, however email is not effective for the patient experiencing acute distress or bothersome symptoms because I can only check my email from my office desk, and only during work hours.


    The question of patient confidentiality, which is not guaranteed on email, also has to be discussed with patients and they need to understand this possibility - one I fear with the many web sites popping up which are designed to have a virtual medical record.

    And patients' family members sometimes email - again I need to have permission to email anyone aside from the patient him or herself.


    The hardest aspect of email from patients is that email is devoid of any emotional tone. I think there's a lot to be said for the face to face discussions between a patient and his or her doctor - and to send something off in bits and bytes can lead to a misinterpretation of what's going on. So in this instance a simple "let's talk about it when you're here next" is often appropriate.


    The best part about email - the occasional "postcard" email from patients who are doing well. I get the occasional email from a woman I met my first week in practice, now eight years ago, who went through chemotherapy and is likely cured. It always makes my week to hear from her :)


Published On: August 27, 2008