Thursday, December 24, 2009

Randall Wong, MD: Why I e-mail with patients

I have two Web sites, one of which is technically a blog. Blogs allow readers to comment, and commenting allows patients to communicate with others, and with me. It empowers them. They become active participants.

I encourage patients to e-mail me as well. (To you nay-sayers, my patients are aware that it is for non-emergencies). Allowing my patients to communicate with me via e-mail or the blog has a lot of advantages.
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One of the advantages of having a Web site is that it is a useful resource. I direct patients to the site to read more about their particular problem. Not only does it reduce their anxiety about forgetting to ask me something during the visit, but it gives patients a nice resource to learn about their disease. Most importantly, they have the opportunity to ask better questions — when they are ready.

Answering questions via e-mail is convenient. To me, it is more efficient than returning phone calls and is easier too. No need to make a phone call and make a note in the chart.

I am not an attorney, but e-mail does create a legitimate paper trail. If you are not comfortable, you could always “cc:” your office manager, print the e-mail, and stick in chart.

The best thing about communicating over the Web is that it makes me more accessible to my patients. It erodes the image of docs living in an ivory tower and allows us to be more human. It removes the barrier of the front desk answering the phone and taking a message, leaving the patient skeptical about my ever returning a call.

In return, it gives me the luxury of responding when convenient for me and not just when I’m in the office.

The bulk of my practice deals with patients with diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration. I see these patients chronically. Getting to know them is a by-product of seeing them year after year. The Web facilitates this nicely.

You may not prefer this mode of communication, but for my practice, it works very well. Patients are empowered to communicate.

By the way, I don’t carry a BlackBerry and I am not crazy — I do not let patients call me directly on my cell.

Randall Wong, MD, is a retinal specialist in private practice in Fairfax, Va. Wong has a strong interest in Web 2.0, the Internet, and social media, and will write regularly about how social media can help build your practice and even improve healthcare.

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