Ninety percent of Americans have never emailed or texted with their doctor. Should they?

The average American writes a novel’s worth of email every year. They also read a novel’s worth of trend stories about how all we do is text — how 15 million texts sent every minute are destroying the art of conversation, rotting our souls.

Still, only about one in ten Americans has ever emailed or texted with their doctor. The formal in-office face-to-face patient-doctor dynamic is largely sacred.

In a survey conducted for a well-known newspaper in conjunction with GlaxoSmithKline, 1000 Americans talked about their tech habits.

Seventy-three percent said they had “doctors and dentists whom they can access regularly.”

So, why isn’t access to doctors more electronic? Confidentiality is one concern, and not every patient wants to text — but a lot more than ten percent do.

Many doctors just don’t have a system to accommodate texting and emailing with patients.

How often is too often?

During what hours?

When is it a billable service?

Of course a patient should still come into the office for any substantial concern. No one’s recommending attaching an image to an email, subject line “this is a broken arm?”

But checking in with quick questions can allow doctors to triage what really warrants an in-person office visit — which costs, on average $130-$180; $580-$700 if it’s an emergency room — and what can be accommodated remotely.

All by the means of communication that has defined the rest of modern society for a decade.

Tech-savvy practices and hospitals are increasingly using remote access systems for patients, where they can log in to a website and get test results or leave messages for physicians, within a secure system, in a limited capacity.

That’s a good place to start. It keeps all interactions in one HIPAA-compliant place and keeps doctors’ personal phones and emails from being overrun by concerned patients.

If a busy primary care physician has 1,500 patients, even if each one only emailed him every six months, that would be eight emails 365 days a year.

But some doctors, expecially specialists with a smaller patient base who manage fewer chronic conditions, have been able to integrate texting into their practice.

There are HIPAA-compliant text and email platforms, and most major insurers are figuring out ways to cover “digital visits.”

For people who don’t have that sort of access to a doctor yet, the increasingly immediate option is Internet self-service.

This survey found that people are generally reasonable about taking medical information from the Internet for what it’s worth, not acting on it until they have talked it over with a doctor.

Surprisingly though, a third of people said they have never looked up their symptoms or conditions online.

Then what do people use the Internet for, if not to figure things out about the nature of their bodies?

Of those who do, here’s where they go:

Yahoo! Health

NIH (National Institute of Health)


Medicine Net

Mayo Clinic

Weight Watchers


Here’s how people generally use these sites:

– doctor reviews

– exercise information

– second opinion

– nutrition information

– determine the need for a doctor

– self diagnosis

– learn and educate about a health issue

And even though a third of people haven’t gone online to read about medical things at all, a significant number are on board with paying to consult their doctor via text or email. Especially wealthy and rural people.

Some go so far as to be willing to communicate with their doctors primarily online. That includes about a third of people under age 30.

Not asked in the survey, but presumably few people would be willing to communicate with their doctor via telegraph. Times are changing. What’s next? Doctors stop carrying giant one-way pagers?