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E-mailing Your Doctor

on November 6th, 2007 | Filed under Optoblog

Kevin, M.D. brings up the point that most doctors don’t e-mail their patients because of privacy laws. Another doctor getting a lot of press for his new practice style, Jay Parkinson, flaunts that he can do whatever he wants since he doesn’t take insurance.

Wow, makes me want to not take any insurance; however, I DO think that we can e-mail our patients as long as HIPAA rules are maintained. It’s my understanding that as long as the data is encrypted, we can communicate confidential information with patients. On my practice website, patients can e-mail me using a form. This form can be optionally encrypted before sending if they have confidential information to share.

This is all done using my public key. Only my private key with its password can decrypt the message. I didn’t go to the HIPAA Security Company store and buy it. It’s totally free if you know how. While I believe this system complies with the intent of HIPAA regulations, I can’t e-mail back a patient if they haven’t made themselves a cryptographic key pair for e-mail. I’ll bet only a very small percentage of people in the world even have one, and I’ll bet the percentage of doctors that have encrypted e-mail is even less than the general population. But I did it. It’s do-able. Sure, I’m a computer geek, but I learned computers the same way I learned eye doctoring; study and practice.

But the obscurity/confusion of how to implement encrypted e-mail communications is not the real reason doctors don’t use it. I don’t get paid to sit around and e-mail patients. I get paid for examining patients at the office. On-line communication tools work well for Dr. Parkinson since that is his mode of practice. But my patients don’t pay me a subscription, so any e-mail that I have with them would most likely say something like, “I would recommend you come in for an appointment.”

By the way, I’ve had this encrypted form feature on my website for over 18 months, and no one has ever used it nor have they used my public key to send me an encrypted e-mail.

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3 Responses to “E-mailing Your Doctor”

  1. Thanks for mentioning me. That last sentence doesn’t surprise me in the least bit. Technology is supposed to make your life convenient…not more complex. I use the most ubiquitous technologies in my practice because that’s the point. They’re easy to use and everyone uses them. Thanks again! Take care.

  2. Excellent point. More people would be using encrypted communications if it were easier.
    I wonder when major e-mail providers like hotmail, yahoo, and gmail will offer paired key encryption?

  3. […] mentioned Jay Parkinson, M.D. before, and in fact, he has left a comment on this blog […]