Opinion: Physicians Reluctant To Embrace Online Communication


"With the rest of the world hooked on electronic communication, doctors sometimes seem like the last holdouts," Wall Street Journal columnist and physician Benjamin Brewer writes.

Forty percent of U.S. patients say they would switch to doctors who use e-mail if they could, according to some surveys, but Brewer notes, "Most doctors I know seem unwilling or unable to make even e-mail part of the way they practice medicine."

Brewer attributes physicians' reluctance to embrace online communication to the fact that they already are overwhelmed by a steady stream of information, as well as to concerns about security and privacy laws.

Three years ago, Brewer's practice unveiled a Web site that supports confidential e-mail and secure electronic patient visits. However, patients are not using the system, according to Brewer. He writes that patients would rather "use their regular, unsecure e-mail" than his Web-based system and that "they really don't want to pay the $30 I charge for an online consultation and that their insurance doesn't usually cover."

According to Brewer, his practice has not come anywhere close to covering the costs of the Web site. He concludes, "For now, the expensive Web site that no one uses is scheduled to come down by the end of the month" (Brewer, Wall Street Journal, 7/9).

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