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E-Mail May Help Doctors, Patients

October 20, 1998

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) _ Click here for your doctor. It could be that simple.

``E-mail has become a ubiquitous tool for communicating with business associates, friends and family,″ wrote Dr. Tom Ferguson, editor of a consumer health newsletter, in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association. ``So there should be little surprise that Net-savvy patients would like greater digital access to their physicians.″

Despite the desire for e-mail access with doctors, only about 1 percent or 2 percent of physicians offer the option, said Ferguson, who was to discuss the issue today at a conference at Duke University.

In a 1996 survey, patients ranked information directly from their doctor’s office as the type of health information they most wanted to see on computers, the article said.

A survey a year later showed 43 percent of the 40.6 million adults in the United States who used the Internet were seeking health information.

``Caring, clinical competence and sensitivity to the needs and preferences of patients have always been a physician’s most prized qualities,″ Ferguson said.

``But just as the most caring, competent and sensitive physician of today would be hard-pressed to build a successful practice without a telephone, those who choose not to communicate electronically with patients may soon find themselves at a similar disadvantage.″

Three other articles in the journal focus on e-mail and online services in the medical world.

One reported that some patients at the University of Virginia and University College London found anonymous e-mail consultations less intimidating than direct contact with their physicians.

Another article raised the issue of liability for physicians online.

Alissa Spielberg of Harvard Medical School wrote that ``e-mail in the medical context not only generates liability concerns but also raises serious questions about privacy, confidentiality, authenticity of authorship and patient consent.″

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