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Email Etiquette for Physicians

I was meeting with my lawyer and we were preparing for my interview with the medical board when he had to stop me to drive a point home. Jeff went on a 5-minute rant about how I am not viewed as an individual as long as I have an active medical license. Rather, I’m a diplomat for the medical profession and will be held to those standards regardless of where I am, what I’m doing, or whom I am talking to.

As medical professionals we are expected to behave, speak, and act as though we are perpetually in the exam room with a patient. Failing to do so has potentially dangerous consequences.

 

Email Etiquette

The past 3 days – and still ongoing – 300+ irate emails have been exchanged by a massive list of physicians on the Teladoc platform.

An initial email was sent from Teladoc to a blind email list. No individual emails were visible from this email list so nobody’s email was publicized – no problems so far.

2 physicians decided to hit reply-all to acknowledge that they read the email and a handful of other physicians followed suit.

Within a couple of hours, pissed off physicians replied to request that responders not use the reply-all feature – by ironically using the reply-all feature to do so.

The next email came from a physician who asked to be removed from the list. They went on to highlight how upset they were that they were on this email list in the first place.

You can imagine the rest. Other physicians joined in to also ask to be unsubscribed by using reply-all. An equal number of physicians continued to use reply-all to tell others not to use reply-all.

There were many upset physicians who replied with “shame on you” and “I will sue” and other such protests because they were upset about their email being publicized. Of course, their email was hidden within the email list and only by clicking on reply-all was their email revealed to everyone else.

 

Security Risk

It wasn’t pretty to witness such display of unprofessionalism among physicians. Then gain, imagining a gang of medical professionals who are entrenched in full-time medicine, drowning in the rat race, it isn’t hard to understand their lack of email etiquette.

Beyond email etiquette, let’s address the internet security matter which I write about frequently. Should you, as a physician, cause a data breach whether intentionally or inadvertently, you could be held liable for the consequences.

Even worse, every time you send an email, reply to an email, or forward and email, you are disseminating data packets online which could end up in the wrong place.

Email Lists for Sale

An email list of 300+ physicians is worth a lot of money. That’s why many websites desperately try to have you enter your email for any shitty reason they can come up with.

If Dr. Mo wasn’t already financially independent then he might consider collecting the emails from those physicians who replied and sell that list or rent it out to the highest bidder.

Personal Identifiers

Many of the repliers had their email signatures attached. This usually includes their contact information and/or business addresses. These are called personal identifiers.

In this tech age, it’s not your social security number that e-thieves are after, rather, your email, your cell phone number, your full name, and address.

No need to panic or become paranoid but realize that as a medical professional your personal identifiers are quite valuable to the right people. Take some effort to protect it.

 

Reply-All

In most email clients you can choose which feature is the default – reply or reply-all.

It’s a better habit to never use the reply-all button. If you need to include a particular person on the CC then cut and paste their email address manually. With so many different email clients and with us using different devices to access them, it’s hard to see exactly who is on the email string.

Using reply-all can also be disruptive – an understatement in this particular Teladoc situation. If a hacker wanted to gain access to patient data on Teladoc then all they would need is one of the physician emails and a password tool to gain access to a massive database of patients.

Email has been around since the 90’s. 2 decades is enough time for us to have a handle on email etiquette. Such skills will give you a leg-up when it comes to competing for jobs in the future.

 

Replying to Emails

Not every email needs to be replied to. Minimizing emails will minimize internet security risk.

The initial email from Teladoc didn’t even need a reply from anyone on that email list.

Acknowledging that you received an email is only important if something needs to be confirmed. If the sender is keen on knowing whether you received it, they can add a blurb about you replying for confirmation.

An email with a reply of “Got it” or “Thank you” is cute when you’re emailing friends but does nothing more than clog inboxes in the professional setting, as well as increase the risks mentioned above.

 

FYI Emails

If you don’t need a reply or want to inform someone of something that may or may not be relevant to them, then include the letters FYI in the subject line.

When I email my lawyer or financial advisor and don’t need them to acknowledge it or reply to me, I add FYI in subject. This saves me quite a bit of back and forth.

I suspect the reason many feel the need to reply is because we don’t want to be rude. However, if you are dealing with someone professional, especially someone who sends/receives a lot of emails, they likely won’t be offended.

When in doubt, don’t reply.

 

Angry Emails

You’re not a bad person because you send an angry email. You might be having a shitty day when you go to open your inbox with 146 emails from other Teladocians. The first response might be to let everyone have it.

Some of the things written by physicians on this email string was jaw-dropping. It’s not the sort of thing you want publicized.

One little trick I have found is to go ahead and type out my angry reply but then save it into my Draft folder. I can always send it in the future.

I have learned that when I look over my angry Drafts, I rarely want to send them. Which has led me to rarely even draft these emails.

 

Filter/Block Emails

After the first 20 emails I went into my email client’s settings, added the Teladoc email list to a filter, and assigned it to go into spam.

That was it. I didn’t see any more back and forth emails except for what ended in my Spam folder.

 

Inject Some Emotion

Humor, sarcasm, wit, and charm are really hard to convey in an email. There is a whole art dedicated to creative non-fiction writing.

I think emoticons are a great way to inject a little emotion into your emails. Don’t get too creative, facial gestures are probably adequate. Skip the Spanish Dancer and Ambulance – few will know wtf you’re referring to.

Sometimes using more words is beneficial even just to express the emotion of the email. It may not be necessary when someone is asking your for your shift availabilities, but a scheduler who is asking you to pick up on a Saturday probably doesn’t want a “No” as the only word in the email reply.

 

Close Email Strings

From the example above, by hitting reply-all, even if you’re just trying to let others know that they shouldn’t hit reply-all, you’re keeping the email string alive.

Put the little fucker out of its misery by simply not replying.

Alternatively, if you are the one who sends and email or replies to an email, regardless of how many recipients there are, anticipate the replies and ensuing conversations.

By anticipating the direction of the email, you can shorten the number of back-and-forths. You can tell the recipient to not reply if they agree with you or for them to reply with the time and place if they can make the time you suggested.

This might seem a little curt but let’s face it, few of us want to have email conversations. We prefer face-to-face live interactions. If we’re going to use email for business purposes, we might as well minimize the inbox flooding for all involved.

 

Action Steps for Email Etiquette

1. Don’t use the reply-all feature.

2. Don’t include personal information in your signature.

3. Send your angry replies to your draft folder first.

4. Aim to close email loops.

5. Don’t publicize your professional email unnecessarily.

6. Inject some emotion into your emails to prevent misunderstanding.

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