Ask a teenager to send you an e-mail, and you'll get the same look you'd give someone if they asked you to send them a self-addressed stamped envelope to reply to a post-it note. As far as communication goes nowadays, get instant, or get out. But there are still prehistoric pockets of people out there that are discovering e-mail like cavemen discover fire: Doctors. Doctor Howard Stark is leading the way out of the medical communication wilderness, no longer having a handful of clerks overbooking his time and herding all his patients into his office to cough on each other and wait.
Instead, he and his assistant Michele Norris-Bell check e-mail alerts on handheld devices and -- between seeing patients in person -- on a desktop computer.
Stark has moved most of his practice, based in Washington, onto the Internet and he couldn't be happier. Since he started his Web-based service two years ago, he has received 14,000 e-mails. And yet, he feels more like an old-fashioned family doctor in a small town than a modern, harried physician.
"That's 14,000 phone calls that we did not have to answer and that patients did not have to make," Stark said. He does not charge for answering an e-mail. "You have to come in one time a year for an annual exam," Stark said. The rest is free -- prescription refills, quick questions about medication, even questions about unusual stings.
Interestingly, Doctor Stark doesn't accept insurance. He'll help you to fill out paperwork to claim reimbursement from your insurance companies, but you're responsible for your own bills. That saves on overhead too. He's got a website called DoctorsOnTheWeb, that is aimed at enlisting other doctors to do what he is doing. Well, maybe if we make them type all the prescriptions, we'll be able to read them now.