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So That’s Why Doctors Don’t Use E-Mail

I’ve known several doctors who refused to read e-mail from patients. They said it was simply a bad use of their time.

I also used to have a doctor who hated it whenever you came in and asked questions about some article you’d read in The Times about Lyme disease or some such. He’d get a pained look on his face — here we go again; patients pretending to be doctors — and then ignore the question.

But surely it’s in everyone’s best interest for patients to stay informed, right? For patients to do their own research, to ask lots of questions — especially of their own doctors — and so forth, right? Right?

Wrong. At least that’s what Hai Fang, Nolan H. Miller, John A. Rizzo, and Richard J. Zeckhauser write in a new working paper called “Demanding Customers: Consumerist Patients and Quality of Care.”

From the abstract:

Consumerism arises when patients acquire and use medical information from sources apart from their physicians, such as the Internet and direct-to-patient advertising.

Consumerism has been hailed as a means of improving quality. This need not be the result. Consumerist patients place additional demands on their doctors’ time, thus imposing a negative externality on other patients. … Data from a large national survey of physicians shows that high levels of consumerism are associated with lower perceived quality.