Category: e-health

Time flies when you’re messaging your doctor

published date
September 12th, 2006 by

Time flies when you’re messaging your doctor

I received the following message from PatientSite, the secure messaging service my doctor uses:

Dear PatientSite Users:

We are sending out this email as a reminder to you about the Compose Message page having a 15 minute timeout. If you are composing a long email in PatientSite, please click the Save Draft button every 10 minutes to ensure that your text will be saved. An alternative to this method is to compose your email in a Word document. You can then copy (control + C) and Paste (control + P) all your text into your Compose window in PatientSite.

PatientSite times out after 15 minutes on the Compose Message page and the Records pages when there are no page flips, which represents no activity to the program.

PatientSite Tech Support

The message tell me two interesting things:

  • First, that PatientSite tech support doesn’t realize that Ctrl + P means “print” in Windows, not “paste,” which is Ctrl + V
  • More importantly, that PatientSite’s designers didn’t understand how patients actually interact with physicians online

The designers must have assumed 15 minutes would be plenty of time for a patient to compose a short note to their doctor. After all, unlike my favorite secure messaging platform, RelayHealth (now part of McKesson), PatientSite doesn’t let patients engage in structured messaging. It’s basically just secure email.

Most emails take only a few minutes to compose. But it’s different when patients are messaging their physicians. One of the interesting observations from early studies of RelayHealth users is that patients actually spent a lot of time composing their messages, yet the patients didn’t perceive that they were spending too much time. Instead of feeling rushed to present themselves intelligently in the few minutes or seconds of an office visit or phone call, patients would take the time to express themselves clearly, thinking through their messages and re-writing them as needed. After all, they weren’t wasting their physician’s precious time.

One of the reasons that asynchronous services like RelayHealth and PatientSite are so valuable is that patients can take all the time they want on their end to get their thoughts straight without making the physician (and other patients) wait around. The patient can even get help from a family member of friend. Once the physician receives the message he or she can view it and dash off a response in a few seconds or minutes, and everyone is happy.