Doctors without email? What year is it?

I've been filling out a lot of paperwork at doctors' offices recently.  More than I should have to.
Written by David Berlind, Inactive

I've been filling out a lot of paperwork at doctors' offices recently.  More than I should have to.  For example, at my new primary care physician's office, I filled out that same standard form that you've all filled out.  First name, last name.  Address.  Insurance.  Previous hospitalizations.  Allergies.  You know the one I'm talking about.   Dealing with my doctors could be handled much more efficiently and easily by email.Eventually, I was recommended to a specialist where, not much to my surprise, I had to fill out the same form.  But it gets worse.  After filling out the form and seeing the specialist, I was referred to another doctor -- this time a doctor in the same outfit as the one I had just seen and I had to fill out yet another form.  This form had a few additional fields, but some of the others were the same.  What's wrong with this picture? I'm sure someone will come back and tell me that it's a hippo standing in the way (or is that HIPAA?).  Malpractice is probably a factor too.  We've become such a litigious society that it stands in the way of getting healthcare.

Anybody who has had to deal with doctors regarding a serious health issue knows its really hard to get the information you want when you want it.  Doctors are almost never available when you call them and I've yet to find a doctor that's great about returning phone calls.  Oddly, with health care, even though you're the customer, you really have to stay on top of everyone you're dealing with to make sure your case doesn't slip through the cracks.  It's as if it's a privilege to be some doctor's customer, er, I mean patient.  Shouldn't it be the other way around?  Or, does "patient" mean "You have to be patient, even though that promised call never comes in after you've been waiting by the phone all day (so you could do something important like get your prescription refilled or to find out what time you're supposed to go get more tests in the morning)."  The thing that really steams me though is email.  Or lack thereof.  It's as if the entire healthcare profession is on email strike.

About 99 percent of what I get accomplished on the telephone when dealing with my doctors could be handled much more efficiently and easily by email.  I'm imagining the email where I write "Doctor, I was able to move my dentist appointment so I can take that 10:00am appointment on Thursday that you offered me.  Please confirm."  Maybe the doctor is too busy with emergencies to call back for something that, in her scheme of things is, well, trivial (even though it's very big for the patient). But with email and something like a Blackberry, a doctor can respond "confirmed" while walking from one emergency to the next.  Later on, she can add it to her book or cc: her assistant.   Not only is the patient happy, he or she doesn't have to wait by the phone all day.   But, either some of the health care professionals I'm dealing with are lying to me, or they really are in the stone age. 

In the tech industry and with most friends and family I deal with, email is the 24/7 communication channel.  There's are sort of unwritten "you can track me down by email and that's OK" rule.   Knowing how hard it is to stay on top of the health professionals I often deal with, I ask most of my doctors and even their assistants for their email addresses.   Never mind the fact that it should unequivocally be the other way around so they have the means to much more efficiently and proactively stay in touch with me (I'm imagining emails that keep me updated with new information that my doctor knows is relevant to my health), how is it that the answer to this question is almost universally "I'm not on the Internet" or "I don't have email?" Whether it is true or not, it makes me wonder what kind of world we live in.

Editorial standards