Though the technology has not existed as long as the phone or physical letters, email has already come to dominate the way people communicate. According to a Gallup pool, email – alongside texting – is the most frequently used form of nonpersonal communication for American adults.

Yet despite that increase in use, email has yet to permeate every aspect of life, namely the medical field. A study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that only 30.5 percent of doctors use email. That's despite the fact that 93 percent of patients would prefer email communication, according to a survey by Catalyst Healthcare Research.

Given this noticeable gap in both use and demand, it's important that doctors more effectively implement email in order to better engage their patients and meet their specific medical needs. At the every least, considering a change in your approach can address certain questions about your office's operating protocols. 

Email improves record keeping
Patients don't exactly have the best memory when it comes to their personal medical information. In fact, according to a report published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, patients remembered less than half of what they were told either in person or over the phone. As such, email is a way to ensure that they have every bit of information required, and that you as the doctor have concrete proof that you've shared said information. Phone calls aren't documented that well, either, as it's often hard to keep notes during an unexpected conversation. Email is also another way for patients to "study" their information, being aware of their treatment process and potentially reduce the number of questions during subsequent office visits. 

Email helps forge better bonds
There's a reason so many people tend to favor emails over other forms of communication. Not only does email provide a more efficient way of keeping records, but there's something more approachable about this method. It allows both doctors and patients time to compose their thoughts, ensuring greater clarity and succinctness. Perhaps more than that, email can often help improve the relationship between a patient and doctor. According to Dr. Joseph Kvedar, email is a way for a physician to more effectively reach out to his or her patients, bolstering relations by developing a sense of trust and collaboration. In turn, this makes the patient more willing to heed a doctor's advice, which only improves the overall treatment process.

Email means faster feedback
Oftentimes, patients are left waiting for test results for days at a time. Many have to book additional appointments just to be able to see a certain medical scan or report. Email, however, does away with some of this waiting. Rather than having to interact in person, a doctor can simply share the report as an attachment in an email. Or, if a test result comes in later in the working day, the doctor can shoot of an email with any news or updates. However, it's also important that a doctor considers just how and when to field any patient feedback. According to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, only one percent of patient emails actually required immediate attention. So while feedback can occur in real time, it's up to the doctor to dictate what needs to be discussed ASAP and what can wait.

Email and HIPAA
There's often contention about whether physicians can use email if they're trying to adhere to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services says emails are an acceptable form of communication, but only if doctors enact certain safeguards to ensure privacy. That's because, according to a report in the journal The BMJ, 90 percent of patients use email to share sensitive medical information. In order to prevent any potential issues regarding privacy, doctors need to use email only in instances where there's less likely to be a breach in confidentiality. That includes:

  • Sharing test results.
  • Ordering any ongoing prescriptions.
  • Reporting home records, like blood pressure and oxygenation.
  • Scheduling appointments.

Additionally, certain emails should only be answered by the actual physician, not just the office staff. It's also a good idea to limit the number of emails in a given thread. Not only to prevent any possible privacy breaches, but also to avoid any important information getting lost along the way.