But I just have one quick question!
Why Doctors Don’t Email, Call or Text You
We can conduct most of our life business online; from making travel reservations to filing taxes, paying bills, ordering products, and getting groceries delivered … the list is long. But when it comes to medical care, it can be hard to get a doctor to talk to us on the phone, much less answer emails or text messages.
Before we assume that our doctors are out playing a round of golf instead of answering our pressing health questions, let’s look at some of the reasons doctors and other health professionals might avoid using communications tools that make life easier.
Profit does play a part – your doctor may not be able to figure out how to bill patients for a call or email message. But complying with regulatory demands, dealing with the technology needed to communicate privately with patients – along with the desire to provide excellent care – are equally significant factors.
Legal and Privacy Concerns
The privacy of your personal health information is protected by The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Legally, a healthcare provider is allowed to use emails, text and messaging apps to communicate with patients if he or she has gained their permission to do so. But HIPAA requires that all electronic communications from a healthcare provider that contains personal health information must be secure and private. Since there is no such thing as a 100% secure digital system, the healthcare provider needs to abide by “best practice” guidelines that specify how to best protect personal health data.
Failure to comply with HIPAA can result in civil and criminal penalties. And those penalties are significant: fines range from tens of thousands up to millions for exposing patients’ personal health data. Some insurance companies are offering “cyber liability” policies for medical professionals to protect them from the costs and complications of HIPAA non-compliance.
While HIPPA enforcement typically only involves fines and criminal charges following a healthcare provider’s refusal or reluctance to remediate a problem, the threat of costly legal problems (and bad publicity) can discourage medical professionals from digital communications.
HIPAA also covers any electronic file containing personal health data, so diagnostic imaging files (such as x-rays or MRIs), voice messages that might be converted into text, a document that could be scanned, etc. are all protected by HIPAA.
It gets even more complicated. For example, free email accounts are not considered HIPAA-compliant. So, a doctor can’t use Gmail to read or reply to email from patients, but patients can tell doctors to send email to the patient’s free email account. As long as the doctor tells a patient that free email is considered insecure, (and documents the conversation and patient’s response) he or she is in compliance with HIPAA.
Complying with HIPAA has been a source of much confusion for healthcare professionals in private practice. For many doctors in private practice, figuring out the subtle rules governing digital communications with patients is a burdensome challenge. It’s so much easier to have you come into the office!
Correct Communications Worries
Your doctor may also be concerned about giving you worrisome – or even inconclusive – news about a medical condition via email or text. Typically, a doctor will want to have a face-to-face visit when discussing test results (and even symptoms) so that he or she can answer your questions and gauge your reactions to see if you understand the diagnosis and what needs to happen next.
Comfort levels with written communications vary, too. Your healthcare provider may also feel that he or she isn’t capable of clearly and correctly discussing medical concerns in a written format, or in the short statements required by technologies such as text messaging. He or she may also simply not be comfortable talking on the phone.
A doctor may also be concerned about how to manage requests for information from patients. Offering telemedicine – a formal process where a doctor and patient discuss symptoms, enabling a doctor to diagnose a problem and determine the correct treatment – is significantly different than managing a flood of calls, emails and texts. To deal with this situation, a doctor may simply decide not to diagnosis or answer medical questions from anyone unless the person comes to the office.
Lastly, malpractice may be a concern. Doctors and other healthcare professionals feel more secure about the quality of care they are delivering if they are working within the structure of an in-office or telemedicine consultation.
Patient Problems and Costs
While it’s easy to understand why a doctor would prefer to see you in person, it’s also true that not every health or wellness issue needs to be addressed with a doctor’s visit or telemedicine consultation. To bridge the gap between simply wanting trustworthy information and actually needing medical care, people are increasingly turning to services that provide quick, secure access to medical professionals.
As an example, eDocAmerica provides direct email and app access to a team of medical professionals including board-certified physicians, psychologists, pharmacists, dentists, dietitians, and fitness trainers. Simply email a question, and a personal response to the query from the appropriate medical professional arrives within hours.
Members of :DP HealthNow, a money-and-time saving healthcare solution for individuals and groups, have unlimited, free access to Doctors Online by eDocAmerica along with a wealth of other cost-cutting services. To find out more about the advantages of :DP HealthNow, visit dphealthnow.com.