I have the email address of my GP as his patient.
The people with long term health conditions that I work with as a self-management coach for the NHS have my email address and work mobile.
Although I am not working in a critical clinical role like a GP, I feel that being on both sides of the 'provider-user' fence on this one has given me some insight into to arguments about to give out email addresses to patients or not. It all comes down to TRUST.
As a patient myself, I've had my GPs email address for two years. In that time I've emailed him three times. Once to give him the name of a healthcare professional at my hospital he needed for a referral that I couldn't remember in my appointment. The other two emails were part of a dialogue to see if I'd heard back from the specialists he'd referred me to (so he could follow up with them) and to see if he could see me while having a relapse (as agreed).
I really trust my GP but that trust is really reciprocated when he trusts me not to abuse having access to him by email. I know that he trusts me as a patient to self-manage, but this was in addition to that.
As a self-management coach, I was fearful of having people email me too much - a concern I know clinical professionals have. The reality could not be more different! I get few emails that aren't helpful - they are all to let me know if they have to cancel an appointment, share good news (always LOVELY to receive!) or local resources that are helpful for me to share with other people I work with. I think that being able to support the people I work with by email as well as face to face enables me to be better at my job.
When self-management can often be seen as 'going it along' and being 'self-sufficient', it might seem contradictory to provide such access to support. But self-management is about having the confidence to live well with a health condition, and part of that is about using resources well - that is exactly what the people I work with are doing with my email address! Naturally, without having to be told how to use it appropriately!
The biggest thing for me as a patient was the trust my GP had in me to give me his email address. I also notice the trust it helps me create as a self-management coach. Isn't Trust a cornerstone of an effective patient-professional relationship? If a professional doesn't trust us to use an email address appropriately, how can they trust us to manage our own health appropriately, and what does it say about the power balance between professional and patient?