Saturday, December 17, 2005

Emailing The Doctor

In today's high-tech world, you may find that you have the option of emailing your pediatrician instead of just picking up the phone. In fact, some doctors and nurses are beginning to prefer this method of communication. You can find out quickly by doing a search engine look up for your doctor's name, or you can ask the next time you have a visit scheduled. If your doctor has the emailing option, keep these considerations in mind.

First, know that you are sharing your information with more than one person. This concern is not so much about spy ware. Instead keep in mind that the email likely will go to a central box and that someone, probably the receptionist, will read it first. This person will decide who should receive the message and then will send it on. You should not expect that only the doctor will read the note. While that may concern you, it is not that different from leaving a note for the nurse or doctor to give you a call. Either way, someone needs to route your call so that the appropriate person can take care of you.

Second, these messages probably will not get a response as quickly. Even technology-friendly offices may not check email messages as often as phone messages. That means that you will have to wait for a response. Also keep in mind that there will be no responses over the weekend, so don't look for one. Doctors' offices are busy places, and just because email is instantaneous does not mean that the responses to said email will be as quick. No one is sitting around waiting for the messages, so they are answered in between seeing patients, recording information, and performing other office tasks.

This slow response time also should dictate what types of questions you should ask. Do not send pressing medical issues. Instead, you can ask more general questions about your child's medical situation or about billing, scheduling, and other issues. Think about what is appropriate for an email before you send it. If you will need several follow-up questions or if the situation is complicated, it is a matter best handled in person or over the phone.

You also may have a fee. Check to see if there is a fee associated with email consultations before you send one. If there is, you may want to consider making a phone call instead. If you are asking a simple question, you probably do not want to pay a cover charge to do so. The doctor's office should warn you about any fees but ask to make sure. They will not be covered by insurance, so they will be your responsibility.

Only ask one question in an email, or at the very least keep the emails related. You can ask about two items on your billing statement, but avoid asking about scheduling an appointment and about a good motion sickness medication. Remember that central mailbox where everything is going. It will be harder for your questions to get answered if they need to go to more than one person. Instead send a separate email for each grouping to make it easier on the staff members fielding your concerns.

Keep in mind what you can explain in an email. If you cannot explain the issue in two to three sentences, then you need to call or go in to ask about the problem. You should be able to explain everything that has gone on very clearly for the other person to understand what you are saying. Also include details. If your baby has a rash, don't just say, "she has a little rash." You need to be more specific. Think about what questions the nurse would ask if you were on the phone. "She has a rash on her forearm. It is red and blotchy, but there are no raised bumps." This type of explanation can save a lot of time and confusion.

Finally, use email sparingly. While it is convenient, you should keep in mind that it can take longer for the staff person to type a response, particularly if a follow-up is needed, than to talk to you in person.

By Julia Mercer

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