Guidelines Set for Doctor-Patient Emails

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“Substantive” e-mails between patients and doctors should occur only in the context of a pre-existing patient-doctor relationship, cautions the eRisk Working Group for Healthcare, which recently announced a set of guidelines for such communication.

The guidelines were developed to address the problem of online “doc-in-a-box” services in which doctors provide online care and prescribe medicine for patients they have never seen.

An eRisk Working Group news re-lease notes that “patient-physician email is growing rapidly, according to the most recent national studies, including a 2002 Harris Poll analysis, which noted that [more than] 70 percent of patients want email access to their physician’s office.” Nearly 40 percent of patients are willing to pay for the time- and money-saving convenience.

Doctors, however, “have indicated that issues of liability, security and payment are their top concerns when offering these services to patients,” the news release states.

Other new guidelines warn against active solicitation of emergency topics—such as chest pain, shortness of breath or bleeding—or active solicitation of highly sensitive information when communicating online.

The eRisk Working Group for Healthcare is a consortium of the American Medical Association, other leading medical societies, and liability carriers representing more than 70 percent of insured doctors. The Federation of State Medical License Boards and representatives from the state boards also participated in developing the guidelines, which are available online at www.medem.com/erisk (Dead link: 10-2010 – Try medfusion.net/ihealth/).

—December 4, 2002

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