Clinician-patient E-mail communication: challenges for reimbursement.
Clinicians are rapidly gaining experience with online clinician-patient consultation, and more tools are becoming available to support these efforts. In addition, we now have evidence that using electronic communication is cost-effective to payers and appealing to patients and providers. At present, there appear to be few barriers to the adoption of these solutions for practices that use other online services. Security concerns can easily be overcome by using programs described in this commentary. Larger and longer studies that evaluate the benefits and cost savings in more detail may help convince other payers and providers of the utility of the Web-based programs. More studies are needed to understand the effect of dinician-patient electronic communication on the costs of caring for chronic illness. When these solutions also include support tools, such as electronic prescribing, which could improve patient safety and quality of care, they should be encouraged. In their article entitled, "Electrons in Flight-Email between Doctors and Patients," Delbanco and Sands postulate that the future of e-communication in medicine will be integrated with a patient-controlled health record and will include secure synchronous and asynchronous communication, video conferencing and messaging, instant transcription into the written record, full-patient access to the record, translation into different languages, connectivity to multiple data sources, incorporation of multi-media educational materials. It-will also allow data from home-based diagnostic technology to be sent to clinicians. "Electronic communication will move medicine inexorably toward such transparency, enabling doctors and patients to share knowledge, responsibility, and decision-making more equally. We need to explore rapidly how this change will affect the quality of care for patients and the quality of life for doctors." The widespread dependence on Internet-based electronic communication to support a variety of commercial, educational, and entertainment needs and interests offers us an opportunity to develop innovative approaches to some long-standing problems-assuring the accessibility of clinicians to their patients and the effectiveness and timeliness of communication between them. It is exciting that we now have well-documented examples of how these new technologies can be used to enhance the quality of primary care practice in both large and small practice organizations.
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