In 2011 and 2012 I wrote about the increasing problem of Business Spam – unsolicited, unconsented advertising that has grown in volume to the point that it constitutes more than half of my email . In 2016, I’ve done an experiment – I’ve not opted in to any newsletter, any website offering notifications or any vendor offering information. I’ve monitored my mailbox for violators of good email practices.
This month, we put a stop to it – cold turkey. Anyone sending business spam is now blocked from the 22,000 users of Beth Israel Deaconess and its affiliates.
Here’s how we did it – using a commercially available appliance we have black listed organizations which send bulk email and companies which violate unsolicited email policies.
According to the Nielsen survey earlier this month by the Council of Accountable Physician Practices and the Bipartisan Policy Center, the majority of medical providers in the United States still do not use emails or text messages to communicate with their patients, despite the fact that such communication channels are in very high demand from the patients.
The survey results are appalling. After all, when you receive text message reminders about your upcoming credit card bill or ask your airline a question about your flight reservation via email, why can’t you communicate with your doctor in the same convenient way? Why are we still using the technology of the 20th century to communicate with our doctors in the 21stcentury?
The answer has three sides to it: Economics, technology management and regulations.
Perhaps doctors should be more like the President.
After all, we also carry the ultimate responsibility for our constituents, even though we, too, have team members who do part of that work.
The way I understand things to work at the White House, those other team members collect, review and prioritize the information the President needs in order to manage his, and all our, business.
That is how things used to work in medicine, too, before computerization revolutionized our workflows: Nurses, medical assistants or secretaries would open the mail, gather the faxes, look over the lab and X-ray reports and put them on physicians’ desks in a certain order. Highly abnormal or time-sensitive information would be prioritized over routine “signature-needed” forms, and in my case, essentially normal reports on patients already scheduled to be seen within a few days wouldn’t even reach my eyes until the patient appointment.
Computers changed all that.
Now, most of the information goes straight to the doctors’ inboxes, unseen by other human eyes in the office. This is said to be faster. It is, to a degree, in the sense that the information leaves the laboratory or the X-ray department faster via their Internet connected computers. But in the typical medical office, we have now turned decision making doctors into frontline mail sorters and de facto bottlenecks of routine information.
”Email is the killer app of patient portals.”
I heard a variation of that quote when interviewing people for the patient-provider communication chapter of the book I co-wrote (HIMSS 2014 Book of the Year –Engage! Transforming Healthcare Through Digital Patient Engagement). For the organizations who’ve pushed patient portals the furthest into their patient base, email has always been the foundation. In other words, email is the gateway drug for patient engagement which Leonard Kish called the blockbuster “drug” of the century.
Physicians are understandably concerned about being overwhelmed by emails if they provide an option for secure messaging. As healthcare transforms, financial incentives have a big effect on the willingness to take on what many perceive to be “more unpaid work” (forgetting the fact that playing voicemail tag is also unpaid and frustratingly inefficient). Interestingly, the physicians who have given out their phone number or enabled secure email (without remuneration) haven’t found they are overwhelmed by any means. In the case of the groundbreaking Open Notes study, many of the doctors just heard crickets.
I’m sure you get a lot of hate mail, especially from folks in my profession, so when you got this letter from me you probably assumed it was more of the same. Let me reassure you: I am not one of those docs. I do think patient privacy is important, and actually found you quite useful when facing unwanted probing questions from family members. I believe the only way for patients to really open up to docs like me is to have a culture of respect for privacy, and you are a large part of that trust I can enjoy. Yeah, there was trust before you were around, but that was before the internet, and before people used words like “social media,” and “data mining.”
But there have been things done in your name that I’ve recently come in contact with that make me conclude that either A: you are very much misunderstood, or B: you have a really dark side.
Dr. Wes (a cardiology blogger who all should read) wrote a very compelling post about technology and the bondage it can create for doctors.:
The devaluation of doctors’ time continues unabated.
As we move into our new era of health care delivery with millions more needing physician time (and other health care provider’s time, for that matter) – we’re seeing a powerful force emerge – a subtle marketing of limitless physician availability facilitated by the advance of the electronic medical record, social media, and smart phones.
Doctors, you see, must be always present, always available, always giving
This sounds like dire words, but the degree to which it has resonated around the web among doctors is telling. He continues:
Increasingly the question becomes – if we choose future doctors on their willingness to sacrifice for others without expectation of appropriate boundaries and compensation – will we be drawing from the same pool of people as the ones who will make the best technically-skilled clinicians? What type of person will enter medicine if they know that their personal life will always take second place to patient care?
Dr. Brian V (long last name, but another one who you all should read) adds his voice to this:Continue reading…
I was talking to a fellow physician about a mutual patient. I had
information that would help him in their care and he was taking the
unusual step of asking me for my information. I was impressed.
“Could you fax me those documents?” he asked. ”Here’s my fax number.”
I scrambled to get a pen to write down his number. Then I had a
thought: “I could email you those documents much easier. Do you have
an email address?”
After a long pause, he hesitantly responded, “I would rather you just fax it.” He said no more.
This is a typical reaction I get from my colleagues when suggest
using the new-fangled communication tool called email. The palms
sweat, the speech stumbles, and the awkwardness is thick in the air.
It’s as if I am suggesting they join me in an evil conspiracy, or as
if I am asking them to join my technology nerd cult. There is a
culture of fear in our healthcare system; it’s a wall against change, a
current of stubbornness, a root of suspicion that looks at anything
from the outside as a danger. Instead of embracing technology, doctors
see it as a tool in the hands of others intent on controlling them.
They see it as a collar on their neck that they only wear because
others are stronger than them.
It’s the only reason I can see for the resistance of a transforming
technology. It’s the only way to explain how they would favor a
non-system that hurts their patients over a system that can improve
their care immensely. After all, what good is it to embrace a
technology – no matter how good – if it will take away their ability to
practice medicine? ”It’s good for you!” they hear from politicians and
academics, but they see it as a poison pill.