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Electronic patient-physician communication

Mandl, Kenneth D., et al. (1998). Electronic patient-physician communication: problems and promise. Annals of Internal Medicine, (129)6, 495-500.

This article outlines pros and cons of electronic communication between physicians and their patients and provides a research agenda to help shape the communications infrastructure in this setting. While the authors believe that email offers opportunities for better communication, they are also wary of potential drawbacks. Either way, they state, linking patients and physicians through email “may have profound implications for the patient-physician relationship? (p. 495).

Potential advantages of email communication include:
• Increasing access to care
• Enhancing patient education
• Augmenting screening programs
• Improving adherence to treatment plans

Potential pitfalls include:
• Use of email may be inappropriate in some situations, such as diagnosis of a new problem, addressing urgent needs, or conveying sensitive issues
• Concern over security and confidentiality
• Medicolegal liability
• Inequitable access to technology

Prior to widescale acceptance and availability of electronic communication between patients and physicians, the authors argue for the following to be addressed:
• “Define appropriate use of the various modes of patient-physician communication
• Ensure the security and confidentiality of patient information
• Create user interfaces that guide patients in effective use of the technology
• Proactively assess the medicolegal liability, and
• Ensure access to the technology by a multicultural, multilingual population with varying degrees of literacy? (p. 495).