Health care report: Midstate doctors slow to embrace e-mail

//June 7, 2007

Health care report: Midstate doctors slow to embrace e-mail

//June 7, 2007


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Communicating by e-mail — commonplace in the business world — has yet to catch on with most doctors in the midstate.

Although more physicians are becoming interested in using e-mail as a link to patients, there are many barriers to greater adoption of the technology, observers said.

“The doctor-patient relationship is just not the same over e-mail,” said Trudi Noppenberger, administrator at Women’s Health Center of Lebanon.

A couple of patients have sent

e-mails to doctors at the health center, but the practice does not encourage such communication. One of the primary challenges is that most insurers and other payers do not reimburse physicians for consultations provided via e-mail, Noppenberger said.

Security and privacy are major concerns, as well. Physicians who don’t use secure e-mail programs risk violating federal health-

privacy laws, said Dr. Thomas McGann, executive director of the WellSpan Medical Group in York County. Several months ago, the health system launched a pilot project to develop a password-protected Web portal to encourage confidential communications between patients and physicians. So far, more than 20 of the group’s doctors and roughly 570 patients are using the portal.

The culture of medicine contributes to some physicians’ unwillingness to use e-mail frequently, said Dr. Joseph Cincotta, medical director at Heritage Medical Group in Cumberland County. Many doctors feel that face-to-face communication is the best way to properly diagnose patients. In fact, patients can be endangered if they send messages to doctors who check their e-mail infrequently.

“An important problem might go unrecognized for days, and that’s not good,” Cincotta said.

Despite their concerns, local observers expect more doctors and patients to embrace e-mail communications within the next five to 10 years. E-mail is a great way for doctors to become more efficient in handling nonurgent matters such as appointment requests and providing health information, Cincotta said.