Physicians don’t email patients 
Posted by Carlos on Oct 08, 2010

In a relatively short period of time, terms such as “Social Media”, “Web 2.0”, and “Facebook” have become staples of our collective lexicon. (I find it interesting that many pharma companies block their employees from accessing these sites from their work computers. Yet their employees access these same sites from their smart phones while sitting at their desks. But we digress…).

Physician use and adaptation of these tools is quite interesting, mainly because their professional Internet-related behaviors appear to deviate from the norm. For example, many physicians still write prescriptions manually on paper. Why? Many pharmacies are well equipped to handle electronically-transmitted prescriptions.

Today we read a study noting that physicians are reluctant to engage in email exchanges with their patients. Their reasons are solid. First, physicians who are reimbursed as a function of their activity (that is, not a salaried physician) do not get reimbursed for interacting with their patients via email. Instead, physicians opt to see more patients live, and get reimbursed accordingly. The article points out that there are liability and other concerns as well. These are also quite understandable. The full report is available here (PDF).

In the age of electronic stethoscopes, prescriptions, and health records, just 6.7% of physicians routinely communicated with patients by email in 2008, according to a survey released yesterday by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC).

Another 14.9% of physicians connected with patients online occasionally. Only 34.5% reported having the technology to do this in the first place.

Interestingly, a recent conference clearly concluded that pharma companies are interested in engaging with their “customers” digitally. (Whether they mean physicians/prescribers or patients is an open question).

The digital interfaces between pharma companies, regulators, physicians, and patients will continue to evolve for many years. It should be an interesting and challenging area for all involved.


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