Email and social media are already making it infinitely more efficient for patients and providers to connect for non-urgent issues. Kaiser has great data showing that email reduces office visits and lets questionable symptoms be raised earlier, because the logistical hurdle of that first touch is so small. Quoted from Phil Baumann’s blog
Many physicians have been adamant in their disdain at the thought of allowing patients to email them without some form of payment by the insurance industry. Granted, many physicians do not understand the world of finance… many will simply look at their bottom line and feel that if they are not being paid for a service, then they must be loosing money. *No margin, no service* is their motto. This is a very short sighted, naive view—at least from my vantage point.
First… the health of our patients should not always be about the potential economic *rewards* of our interactions or recommendations. Second, physicians must learn to look beyond a typical balance sheet for the potential unrealized economic gains.
There are many web sites which will tell you what your time is worth. I imagine for most physicians it is between $175-$300/hr.
For the last week I kept track of all the emails I received, the time spent responding, and more important— the time saved by not utilizing a middle person. I worked with my group’s CEO to come up with a bottom line number for the money we *saved* because the interaction was direct, and digital— as opposed to a classic encounter which is based on a land-line call to my secretary.
For doctors interested solely in the economic gain associated with each patient encounter, consider that if your secretary is answering a call from a patient who has a simple question for you, the opportunity costs associated with that are more than you realize. Your secretary’s most useful activity is answering calls from new patients looking to schedule a visit. The rest is muda.
Your time is worth $175-$300/hr on average. Do you want to spend that time on the phone with your secretary? Do you want to spend that time on hold, or leaving a message because the patient is no longer available to talk with you? Are you paid to dictate a note about the interaction on the phone? I imagine not.
Most all email questions I receive from patients are straight forward and easily addressed with a quick response. The patient is satisfied, my secretary is freed up to attend to more *useful* tasks and I have a digital record of the communication.
All in, my practice *saved* or *made* over a thousand dollars because of the use of email. Our estimate is primitive,so please do not ask me to produce the data…. but that is not the take home message of this post.
Patient are adopting new tools for communication and learning far faster than most physicians are. If we as physicians resist the urge to engage these patients with the use of email and social media we may just find ourselves blind sided— and ultimately we may find that our bottom line is suffering because of our reluctance or hesitation.