Email overload costs hospitals millions

Medical centers pay a high price for the convenience of email--millions of dollars each year as well as a loss in doctor productivity, according to a research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.

Ian Paul, M.D., and Benjamin Levi, M.D., Ph.D., both of the Penn State College of Medicine, examined how long it would take to go through more than 2,000 mass emails Paul received during the 2009-2010 academic year, and what that equated to in dollars.

Based on the $231,612 mean salary during that academic year:

  • If a doctor spent 30 seconds reading each email, the cost per physician to read mass distribution emails was $1,641 per year.
  • If the doctor took 90 seconds per email, the cost per physician jumped to $4,923 per year..
  • Multiply those numbers by the 629 employed physicians and the annual institutional cost of reading mass distribution emails ranged from $1,029,419 to $3,088,257.

Not only is the financial cost great, the authors wrote in the letter, reading the emails disrupts productivity, wastes time and disminishes quality of life.

Changes in technology and a social shift create an environment that constantly tempts healthcare workers to surf the Internet, check social media outlets or send emails, which is all reinforced with large amounts of daily emails that require some sort of response, anesthesiologist Peter Papadakos, M.D., wrote in Anesthesiology News in 2011.

Constantly checking emails ultimately takes away from patient care, Papadakos told MedPage Today.

"Email and texting are not information-rich communication," he said in the article. "A three-minute conversation about a patient transfers not only information, but a feeling about the patient." And emails are often on public servers, "thus discoverable in a malpractice suit."

To save both time and money, Levi and Paul suggest organizations:

  • Consolidate non-urgent emails from one source;

  • Use internal web-based messages or calendars;

  • Create listservs for targeted audiences with opt-out options;

  • Enable spam filters to internal emails;

  • Provide incentives to individuals who consider appropriateness and accuracy when sending messages to everyone; and

  • Limit reminder messages.

A 2013 InCrowd survey revealed 59 percent of healthcare professionals in hospitals were blocked from social media sites at work, FierceHealthcare previously reported, with employee misuse, wasted time and lowered productivity as the main reasons for barring access.

To learn more:
- here's the research letter
- check out the Anesthesiology News article (free registration required)
- read the MedPage Today article