Healthcare News & Insights

The hidden cost of checking email at hospitals

The amount of email your doctors get in their inboxes could be costing your hospital millions.

117235856In a letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, two doctors from Penn State Hershey Medical Center, Dr. Ian Paul and Dr. Benjamin Levi, calculated the approximate cost of reading email messages received by busy clinicians.

The doctors, who practice medicine in an academic setting, compiled the number of mass distribution email messages they received over the course of a year. Just counting these messages alone, they received 2,035 emails.

Using the mean salary of a physician at the time ($231,612), the doctors determined that:

  • If a doctor spent 30 seconds on each email, the annual cost to read these emails was $1,641 per physician, and
  • If a doctor spent 90 seconds on each email, the annual cost was $4,923 per physician.

Since Penn State Hershey Medical Center had 629 employed physicians, the annual cost to the institution ranged between $1,029,419 and $3,088,257. And that’s just for reading the mass emails.

Costs could skyrocket for hospitals when considering other variables, including individual messages received by each physician and email messages that may take more than 90 seconds to address. The resulting loss of productivity could be significant.

6 tips to solve the problem

As a way to improve this situation, Dr. Levi and Dr. Paul suggest that hospitals change their email systems so that doctors receive fewer mass email messages. That way, they’re only reading and responding to messages that matter.

Specifically, the doctors suggested the following:

  1. Consolidate urgent email messages from one source. This keeps doctors from having to sort through repeat messages that all say the same thing.
  2. Use internal web-based messages or calendars. Doctors won’t have to keep checking email if a brief, direct instant message or calendar event pops up on their screen instead.
  3. Create listservs for targeted audiences (with opt-out features). A listserv where users can opt to unsubscribe allows those who want mass updates to receive them, and those who don’t to keep their inboxes clear.
  4. Enable spam filters for internal emails. If doctors can’t opt out of certain mass mailings, tighter spam filters may help cut down on clutter.
  5. Incentivize individuals to consider appropriateness and accuracy when sending messages to “all recipients.” It may be worth investing in some “email etiquette” training for certain personnel to hammer the point home.
  6. Limit reminder messages. Constant reminders may do more harm than good, so try to keep them down to a handful of emails.

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