"Communication in the Internet Era" by Allen Weiss, MD, CEO & President

Dr. ALlen Weiss, MD, MBA, FACP, FACR
(August 6, 2007) - Will you be emailing your physician in the future, for most of your care, or will you stick to the traditional method of communication?  The traditional manner includes playing telephone tag to get an appointment, to subsequently wait in an office full of other sick people to get a few minutes of face time with a physician or mid-level care giver, followed by more telephone tag and frustration.
A recent New England Journal of Medicine article shared the evolution of a clinic from the “traditional mechanism” to one where patients had a secure email address at which to make appointments, refill medications, obtain lab results or have “real” visits with non-urgent concerns. 
Having “asynchronous communication”, such as email, improves efficiency.  Asynchronous communication occurs when one person leaves a message for another thus not interrupting, in this case, either the patient or caregiver.  Synchronous communication, such as the telephone, requires both sender and receiver to be available at precisely the same moment, and is successful only 25% of the time -- success being defined as when the caller connects with the receiver on the first try. 

In the New England Journal of Medicine email study, phone messages were reduced to a fraction of previous calls. Costly office visits were often substituted by internet suggestions, at a cost substantially lower than an office visit.  Insurance companies were pleased, as were about two thirds of patients who tried this technique. 

Continuity of care also improved as physicians used this information technology highway to connect with physicians working within hospitals, caring for the same patients.  During 75% of all healthcare interactions, it was discovered that some one accesses the internet.  This research may be to choose a hospital or medical facility, verify credentials, get an appointment, check results, or discuss symptoms.  The physicians participating in an early study quickly realized this was safer and at least as fast.  Calling on the phone was always difficult because the patients were frequently out.

So, if you think about banking on line, using an ATM machine and other innovations and technological advances as opposed to walking into a bank, you can now imagine using a secure internet to transform healthcare.  With the shortage of caregivers and an aging population we are going to need new and more effective ways of caring for each other.

Remain ready to change.



Dr. Allen Weiss is CEO & President of the NCH Healthcare System. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Rheumatology and Geriatrics, and was in private practice in Naples, Florida from 1977 - 2000. Dr. Weiss is active in a variety of professional organizations and boards, and has been published in numerous medical journals, including the American Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.