13 March 2018
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Q. When is it appropriate to use email with patients?

A. It is appropriate to use email in place of a phone call as a follow-up to a consultation, or in the management of patients with chronic disease. There are lots of challenges for GPs when using email with patients. Ensure the patient is registered with the practice. Ensure you know the patient and have access to their full medical record. Ensure the patient knows that email is not secure. Probably the most basic challenge is deciding not to respond by email. It is easy to get sucked into an exchange of emails with a patient when what is needed is a face-to-face consultation. The second challenge is how to get paid for email consultations. PayPal may be an option for payment.

Another problem with email is finding the time in a busy day to read and respond to emails. Office workers spend a major portion of their day responding to emails, it is difficult to see how GPs can allocate this time unless time is freed up somewhere else, such as fewer phone calls or fewer face-to-face consultations.

The pressure on you to use email with patients depends on your practice profile. If you provide GP services to a young affluent age group in a city practice, then you need to consider using email, otherwise you will be at a competitive disadvantage and your practice will shrink as competing practices use electronic communications with patients.

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