Updated on December 30, 2010
Reasonable Expectations Part IV: Communicating With Your Vet Via Email
This is the fourth part of an ongoing series describing how people are developing new expectations when it comes to veterinary care for their pets. Parts one through three can be found at www.speakingforspot.com/blog.
Have you any interest in emailing rather than calling your vet when you have questions? This is certainly a reasonable expectation assuming that your vet is willing to communicate online. Email communication with doctors is not a new concept. The Kaiser Permanente “My Health Manager” program with an “email my doctor” feature has been wildly successful. Not only are more and more patients using the program (and Kaiser is promoting it in their marketing ads), a study on more than 30,000 Kaiser Permanente patients with high blood pressure and/or diabetes documented that those who communicated via email with their physicians enjoyed better health outcomes!
I recently surveyed 120 of my northern California colleagues about email communication with clients and here is what I learned from them:
•58% of the vets who responded are communicating with their clients via email
•62% of those who use email are selective- they do not provide email access to all of their clients
•26% of those using email set “ground rules” with their clients; interestingly, many commented that they strongly feel the need to set email ground rules, but have been too “wimpy” to do so
•Receptionists communicate with clients via email in 37% of the practices polled
•Technicians (nurses) communicate with clients via email in 21% of the practices polled
•95% of the veterinarians who use email reported it to be a mostly positive experience
The veterinarians using email unanimously reported that it is great for simple, non-urgent communications (emphasis on non-urgent). Just imagine every veterinarian’s nightmare- you check your email in the evening and find a message that is eight hours old from a client describing their pet who is struggling to breathe and has blue gums! Vets using email enjoy the convenience- for many, not only is email less time consuming than telephoning (avoids phone tag), they can respond to emails at their convenience. I can relate to this- I sometimes don’t finish up with my patients until 8:30 or 9:00 at night at which point I’m worried that it may be too late to return client phone calls.
Along with the fear of not receiving urgent messages in a timely fashion, here’s what the vets I surveyed told me they do not like about email:
•Clients wanting a diagnosis via email rather than via an office visit
•No simple or easy process for transferring the email communication to the patient’s medical record
•Too time consuming for vets who have remedial word processing skills or feel the need to carefully edit their “written words”
•Clients who take advantage of the system and begin emailing too much and/or too often
•Receipt of “cutesy” emails (photos or stories that are incredibly cute, but only in the mind of the sender)
I happen to be a speed demon when it comes to word processing, and I would love the flexibility of communicating with my clients in the wee hours of the morning or late into the evening. So why have I not jumped on the email bandwagon? If you’ve read Speaking for Spot you know that communication between veterinarians and their clients is a topic near and dear to my heart. So much of what is perceived during communication has to do with body language and voice inflection, neither of which can be perceived via email (unless I begin Skyping with my clients, God forbid!). I worry that, by using email, I will miss out on what’s happening emotionally for my clients. Even with this concern, the results of my survey have motivated me to dip my baby toe into the email whirlpool. I think I will invite my clients to email me with really simple questions such as, “When am I supposed to bring Lizzie back in to see you?” or “Is it okay to give Radar his heartworm preventative along with the other medications you prescribed?” Anything more than that, however, and I’ll be jumping back onto the phone in the blink of an eye.
Do you communicate with your vet or your physician via email? If so, what has the experience been like for you?
Now here’s wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health.
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.
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