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updated April 07, 2009

Doctor-patient communication: How to connect with your doctor online

  • Communicating with your doctor online can be a great timesaver and a good way to promote doctor-patient communication — if you do it correctly. Consider these do's and don'ts.
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Filed under: Boomer's Health

( Good doctor-patient communication is an important part of health care. And thanks to the Internet, it may be easier than ever to quickly make contact with your doctor's office. But not all requests or topics are appropriate to discuss online. Follow these tips to make the most of doctor-patient communication online.

Don't Miss

The benefits of connecting online

The Internet can be a powerful tool for enhancing doctor-patient communication. When you communicate online with your doctor:

  • You won't get a busy signal or be put on hold
  • You may feel more comfortable broaching certain topics than you would in person
  • You may save yourself a trip to the doctor's office

The Internet can help your doctor, too. Your doctor may use the Internet to:

  • Follow up after an appointment
  • Clarify your treatment plan
  • Share links to helpful Web sites or other resources
Getting started

Before you connect with your doctor online, he or she may ask you to sign a consent form. The document may include details on:

  • Who may review your e-mail messages
  • The estimated response time
  • What topics can be safely communicated through e-mail
  • Appropriate e-mail length
  • Whether e-mails will be included in your medical chart
  • The privacy protection system used to ensure e-mail confidentiality
  • Whether there's a fee for e-mail exchanges and, if so, what the fee includes

If your doctor doesn't provide guidelines for online communication, clarify any assumptions with him or her before you start. Explain that you want your online health communication to be as secure as communication used for online banking.

Using doctors' Web sites

Many doctors use secure patient portals to communicate with patients in a structured format. A patient portal — typically available by logging in to a doctor's Web site — may allow you to:

  • Refill prescriptions
  • Schedule appointments
  • Obtain some test results
  • E-mail your doctor
  • Conduct a virtual visit
Understanding e-mail guidelines

If you and your doctor communicate through e-mail, remember these general guidelines:

  • Some topics aren't appropriate for e-mail. Don't e-mail your doctor about urgent health issues, such as chest pain.
  • Keep it short. Don't e-mail your doctor lengthy, intimate details about your health.
  • Keep it secure. Don't e-mail your doctor from a public or work computer, where messages may not remain confidential.
Navigating virtual visits

During a virtual visit, a doctor dispenses medical advice without face-to-face interaction. Typically, you'll log in to a patient portal and answer questions about your condition. In some instances — such as with a rash — you may want to provide a photo. In turn, the doctor will review the information and your medical history. He or she may provide self-care advice, links to educational materials or other information. In some cases, the doctor may submit a prescription to your pharmacy or include details from the virtual visit in your electronic medical records.

Virtual visits are often most effective between patients and doctors who have an established relationship. In addition, any doctor you consult for a virtual visit must be licensed to practice medicine in the state in which you live.

Keep in mind that you may be charged for your virtual visit. Insurance companies are increasingly covering virtual visits, however, since they're generally less expensive than face-to-face visits.

The bottom line

If you're interested in communicating with your doctor online or trying a virtual visit, talk to your doctor or check out his or her Web site.

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