The safety of email is a major reason that many continually question its fate. In a broad sense, that is the natural question of any new technology, says Ben Compaine, MBA, PhD, director of the Fellows Program at the Columbia University Institute for Tele-Information and a lecturer in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University in Boston.
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Explore This IssueJune 2016
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“There are always people who will find something to fear,” he says. “Like when ATMs came along, there was stuff being written about safety concerns: ‘People will go to an ATM and someone just holds them up and gets their money.’ It’s happened, but given the hundreds of millions of transactions that go on, you don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.”
Mr. Landa believes that part of the problem with the efficacy of email is that it’s become so fast and so easy that people don’t take their time thinking about the impact of each email.
Another potential pitfall of the efficacy of email is the “lost in translation” phenomenon, Mr. Landa says.
“How many times have you written an email and someone misinterpreted sarcasm or a joke or a particular word or a phrase and got upset because of what they thought you were saying?” he says. “The synchronous and rapid-fire style of the forms of communication elevates the risk by an order of magnitude. I think that’s the reason we have developed all the emoticons and all the visual references that are out there, to make sure that people don’t misinterpret what we’re saying.”
The urgency that comes with a text message or a direct message on Facebook or Twitter is the flip side of the formality that comes with an email.
Privacy is a concern Dr. Hausmann has thought about more than once. He likes his patients to have access to their medical notes, but in a way that is secure. So instead of emailing him directly, he recommends his patients use his hospital’s patient portal, where they can read their clinic notes and email him in a method that is secure and HIPPA compliant. Then the communication can be easily added to the patient’s medical chart.
“Our patient portal has certain security standards where all the messages are encrypted and stored in our secure severs, so that works really well,” he says. “It’s a great thing for patients to be able to read my notes, because I think we often overwhelm them during the medical encounter about all the things they need to do. Having a patient portal is a wonderful resource where patients can review their notes directly and easily send me a message if they have any questions.”
Daniel Solomon, MD, MPH, associate physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, both in Boston, says that for research-focused rheumatologists, email remains the most effective tool for most day-to-day communication.