Answering Patient Emails


There continues to be a push for more docs to answer patients’ emails.  And not get paid for it.  The only way this will work is in a direct pay model where doctors are paid on a monthly basis and no insurance company is involved.  The American Medical News discussed how more patients not only want to email their doctors but want a quick response as well.

  • Surveys have found that a large majority of patients are interested in online communication with their physicians. But other studies have found that patient satisfaction rates could take a significant dive if the messages aren’t responded to in an appropriate period of time.
  • For a report in the April-June issue of Quality Management in Health Care, Mayo Clinic researchers analyzed 323 messages randomly selected from 7,322 collected for the study. They found that nearly all messages sent Monday through Friday were opened within 12 hours. But on the weekend, 87.1% of messages weren’t opened in at least 36 hours.
  • There is no evidence that negative consequences or outcomes are associated with longer delays, Rohrer said. But researchers want to study further whether there should be a standard for how responses should be sent, and how delays in response times affect patient satisfaction and health care decision-making.
  • Other surveys have found a correlation between patient satisfaction and message response times. A 2003 survey of patients using an online messaging service at the University of California, Davis, Medical Centers’ primary care network found that all patients who received a response right away were “very satisfied.” The rate of those who were “very satisfied” dropped to 73.8% when a response didn’t come until the next day. The more the response time increased, the more satisfaction decreased.

Welcome to the future of patient emails.  Here is what I see happening:

  1. You won’t be paid for it.
  2. You will be dinged if your response time is slow.
  3. You could be sued if your response is slow.
  4. You are liable if you wrongly make a diagnosis to a cryptic message.
  5. You will lose money because answering patient emails makes them NOT come in to the office.

When you have only 500-700 patients, like Josh at Atlas.MD, then it easier to answer these emails and since you are being paid, you don’t feel abused by it.

And, by the way, I get billed for EVERY email I send to my lawyer at $300 an hour.


Douglas Farrago MD

Douglas Farrago MD is a full-time practicing family doc in Forest, Va. He started Forest Direct Primary Care where he takes no insurance and bills patients a monthly fee. He is board certified in the specialty of Family Practice. He is the inventor of a product called the Knee Saver which is currently in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Knee Saver and its knock-offs are worn by many major league baseball catchers. He is also the inventor of the CryoHelmet used by athletes for head injuries as well as migraine sufferers. Dr. Farrago is the author of four books, two of which are the top two most popular DPC books. From 2001 – 2011, Dr. Farrago was the editor and creator of the Placebo Journal which ran for 10 full years. Described as the Mad Magazine for doctors, he and the Placebo Journal were featured in the Washington Post, US News and World Report, the AP, and the NY Times. Dr. Farrago is also the editor of the blog Authentic Medicine which was born out of concern about where the direction of healthcare is heading and the belief that the wrong people are in charge. This blog has been going daily for more than 15 years Article about Dr. Farrago in Doximity Email Dr. Farrago – [email protected] 

  1 comment for “Answering Patient Emails

  1. Pat
    June 3, 2013 at 11:40 am

    Reference your recent post regarding patient loyalty. The psychology is beyond the brand loyalty developed for cars or breakfast cereals over decades of market give-and-take; this is a perversion of voluntary exchange from years conditioning patients that they have a right to the product of doctors. Now when a physician balks at giving something else for free, patients -and their government- will bristle at something being withheld as though it were their right to vote, or food stamps. This is posionous. X

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