According to a study by the Center for Studying Health System Change, a Washington-based research institution, despite the growing use of computer technology in almost every other facet of their profession, American doctors are reluctant to use e-mail when interacting with their patients.

The research found that barely a quarter of doctors use e-mail or other electronic communication to reach patients, up 20% from 4 years ago. The study also found that more than half of doctors use computers to store and access patient notes, up 37% from 4 years ago.

Doctors say they are under constant pressure to curtail the time spent with patients because they are paid by volume. Those who don’t use e-mail say the last thing they want is to give patients another way to get a hold of them. Those who do use electronic communication say that they save time and money and improve quality of care.

Representatives from different health plan companies say that they are not averse to paying doctors for electronic consultations, but they would like a more structured setting, such as a secured Web site that screens patients for symptoms and differentiates clinical consulting from administrative questions, such as whether lab tests are in.

[www.latimes.com, October 2, 2006]