Why don't doctors answer emails

This is how doctors handle email

COLOGNE. When it comes to e-mail communication with their patients, many practices of general practitioners still have a lot of catching up to do. This is shown by a study by the Institute for Business Analysis, Consulting and Strategy Development (IFABS) from Düsseldorf.

The IFABS had tested the handling of patient inquiries by email in a sample of 150 general practitioners and 150 specialist practices. It was found that 48.6 percent of general practitioners and 39.3 percent of specialists did not respond at all to the electronic contact.

In the other practices, the average response time was three working days and two hours for general practitioners and two working days and seven hours for specialists.

If the non-respondents were checked, this only led to success in 10.9 percent (general practitioners) or 12.1 percent (specialists) of the cases.

E-mails are often not implemented in practice management, says Thill. "This form of communication takes some getting used to for many practice teams." The investigation is only an excerpt. In his experience, Thill considers the results to be meaningful.

The IFABS manager sees a major reason for the reluctance to receive e-mails in the fact that the practices are already dealing with a jumble of written and IT documents that they have to deal with. The e-mails were easily ignored. Nevertheless, it is important to adequately answer the electronic inquiries, he says.

"Reading and replying to e-mails must be built into the daily cycle," recommends Thill. It makes sense to set a certain time of day for this, such as noon or late afternoon. More and more patients expect emails to be handled quickly, he knows.

Do not forget practical relevance

Satisfaction surveys showed that many patients want to make appointments or order prescriptions this way. "This is developing faster than many practices react."

In the meantime it is taken for granted that the homepages of medical practices on the Internet provide an e-mail contact option. "The e-mail address should have practical relevance," says Thill.

In principle, practice employees should exercise the same care with e-mails as they do with any other written communication. This applies to the clean layout as well as the linguistic form and the correct salutation, he emphasizes.

"The popular 'hello' has no place in practice correspondence." In electronic mail, too, the addressees should be addressed with "Dear Sir" or "Dear Ms." "It is best if standards for e-mail communication are established in practice."

The practice advisor knows that a systematic approach is also advisable when storing e-mails. The electronic filing system must make it possible to quickly find the original emails and the replies. "One should bring the e-mails like the other correspondence into a system of order that is binding for everyone who works in the practice."

Thill points out that emails are also a marketing opportunity. In the footnote, practices can, for example, include a reference to special treatment offers or link to the presence in social media. "Linking to a good assessment in a review portal can also be useful."