First published on on June 20, 2013

Short answer: Yes, of course.

Longer answer: There is no new thing under the sun. Physicians in the 1920s debated whether they should use telephones to communicate with their patients. We know how that turned out.

The issues debated, then and now, are not too different, e.g. the loss of information and nuance when two people cannot see each other, or when the physician cannot examine the patient. And just as they did with telephones, physicians will have to learn what topics are effectively handled by email and which are not.

Even the vexations are similar. Insurance companies are just as unwilling to pay physicians for email messaging as they are for telephone consultations. Many physicians, however, are already emailing patients. A salaried friend loves it.

As technology evolves, the next debate will ask whether texting is appropriate for physicians. Are 140 characters enough to have a clinically meaningful conversation? Let’s give it a try:

(PT = Patient, MD = Physician)

PT: “Hurting”

MD: “Where?”

PT: “Chest.”

MD: “Describe”

PT: “Squeezing”

MD: “Bad?”

PT: “Elephantweight!”

MD: “Call 911”

< crickets >

MD: “Now”

< crickets++ >

MD: “Hello?”

< ominous crickets >

MD: < expletive >

< anguish >

MD: “Hello?!!”

PT: “Here.”

MD: “Alive!”

PT: “Batterycrumped.”

MD: “Call 911”

PT: “Text 911?”

MD: “CALL 911”

PT: “Ok”

MD: “Now”

PT: “Ok”

< disconnect >

MD: “Yeow.”

All technologies carry their own frustrations.

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