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Area doctors don't rely on e-mail


July 17, 2001

West Virginia doctors say requests for their services via e-mail are beginning to trickle in but, as yet, are not widespread.

Instead, many local physicians say they often head to the Internet to research medical questions or to consult with national experts.

Dr. John Keefe, a family practitioner in Kingwood, said he both gives and gets advice electronically.

"I am fond of using www.physiciansonline.org to communicate with people regarding unusual cases to get ideas of where to go," Keefe said. "It's a network of physicians who participate through a forum."

But Keefe's patients aren't demanding electronic consultations, he said.

"One reason I don't is a large section of my patients are elderly and not computer oriented," he said. "Even among those who are, many don't check their e-mail with any regularity. So they end up calling anyway to get results. I expect in the future it will be an avenue I will explore."

In the Kanawha Valley, Drs. Art Rubin, Norm Montalto and John MacCallum have a few patients with whom they correspond via e-mail.

"I have told them that e-mails may not be checked every day and should not be used for any emergent conditions," Rubin said. "A paper copy of the question and my response is placed in the chart."

Often, patients will send MacCallum, of the Center for Alternative Medicine in Putnam County, articles they have found on the Internet.

"Many patients are very adept at discovering information related to their own problems and are very eager to share data with me," MacCallum said.

The Internet abounds with medical information, MacCallum said. The Library of Congress medical database called MEDLARS is free. It's possible to order the full text of certain journal articles for a fee, a distinct advantage to visiting a medical library in person, he said.

"I use the Web for lots of information about alternative medicine," he said. "I occasionally e-mail to communicate with those I encounter who have interests similar to my own."

Drs. Dan Foster, a surgeon, and Fred Kerns, an infectious disease specialist, also use the Internet at times to confirm that they are current on certain medical approaches.

"I use e-mail on occasion with patients who know me well but as yet have no standardized process in place," Foster said.

As patients begin to request e-mail consults, the practice could save physicians time. It might, on the other hand, require more time, the purchase of new equipment and the restructuring of office practices. And, as yet, insurance companies and health maintenance organizations do not reimburse for the service.

"Reimbursement will be increasingly important as people demand more e-mail contact," Keefe said. "It's not quite right yet for people to receive lab results by e-mail. The day may be coming. The younger generation is more married to the computer."

Writer Therese Smith Cox can be reached at 348-4874.

By Therese Cox Copyright © 2001 Charleston Daily Mail


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