Long Waits NOT at the Doctor's Office
July 16, 2010 9:11 AM   Subscribe

How long is a reasonable wait for my doctor/counselor to respond to my email?

I obtained insurance approval for email sessions due to a temporary disability. The doctor has his own family practice, seeing medical patients in the morning and counseling in the afternoon. I understand that doctors must get a more generous convention than the 24-hour turnaround drilled into us at management training. What do you think is a reasonable timeframe before you would start to feel he was less-than-enthusiastic about email sessions? I did ask, btw, and he responded that he's human and has a lot on his plate. As I carry the typical sensitivities of an adult child of a borderline mother I can't help feeling that of all the things on his plate my query was among the less appealing.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total)
The greater issue here is his attitude, because that is going to determine the timing of his responses.His response was the answer you need. He does not consider this part of his profession as a priority and he does not have time to respond to you.
posted by HuronBob at 9:15 AM on July 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, if you've gotten insurance approval, that means he's getting paid for it, which means he should make time. It's unreasonable for him to not tell you how long you're going to have to wait. But see how long it takes for the first one, and go from there...
posted by brainmouse at 9:25 AM on July 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you are his patient, he needs to block out time to participate in your therapy.
posted by shiny blue object at 9:37 AM on July 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

This is non-traditional enough that it's really something the two of you have to come to an agreement on. I would have a starting point of whatever the frequency was of your in-person therapy. So if you were going in once a week, start there. I'm aware that email allows for a lot more back and forth and that waiting a week for a reply does seem odd in normal email etiquette if you were making plans with a friend or what have you but it's also worth figuring out exactly what this situation means to your therapist [is he paid the same as a once a week visit? three visits a week] and when he is blocking out time for this. So I don't think it's reasonable at all the expect the one-day turnaround that you get in the business world, no.

And at some level, whether or not he's enthusiastic is beside the point. Whether or not email therapy is appealing is also beside the point. This is something he is doing for a job and I am assuming has agreed to, so he needs to treat it like a job. This means setting some expectations with you and not treating it like you're hassling him to hear from him more without being quite concrete about what you should be expecting. The two of you should agree on some sort of frequency and then you should not nudge him until he's outside that frequency. For his part, he shouldn't treat you like you're some sort of extra-professional obligation, you're a paying customer like his other customers.
posted by jessamyn at 10:07 AM on July 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Did you send him a simple e-mail to set up an appointment? If so, I'd say the response time is a day or two.

If you sent him an e-mail that contained questions about your treatment or medications, or you appeared to him to want to initiate an e-mail conversation about your treatment as an extension of what you will do in your appointment sessions, and somewhere in there you also requested an appointment, he's not going to reply right away, and his response about having "a lot on his plate" makes more sense, perhaps.

E-mail is tricky and a new enough medium that everyone's expectations and tone and whatnot varies. I'd give him the benefit of the doubt, since he devotes half his practice to this kind of treatment, he must be invested in making it work. He's probably found that patients approach it with all kinds of expectations, and he might have jumped to conclusions about what kind of patient you'd be from your first e-mail.

Anyway, keep your communications with him simple and leave the complex questions to your designated appointment time when you get it set up. If things don't work out after that first session or two, reconsider then whether the doctor is the right one.
posted by vincele at 10:19 AM on July 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Could you switch to telephone sessions? I'm thinking email is one of those mediums that doesn't offer much reassurance for people who are still working on calibrating their expectations of others after years of going off bad parental data. You can't control how the guy handles his inbox, but the phone makes everything immediate.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:27 AM on July 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Email is easy to put off, and to be fair to him he spends his days in scheduled timeslots with physically present people. Can you schedule a time, the same as if you were going to be there in person, and do the therapy via chat or email in that window instead?
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 10:35 AM on July 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

I know how difficult unpredictability can be for you (and all of us with frighteningly unpredictable parents, meaning parents whose moods determined whether our day would be happy or hellish).

I suggest speaking to him by phone and telling him that you would like a better, more concrete procedure for doing the email sessions, one that you're both comfortable with, so that you know what to expect.

I can't help feeling that of all the things on his plate my query was among the less appealing.

It might be, although not because he doesn't like you or is upset or angry, but because he's not used to it and isn't sure what to do, or because there is a more pressing or urgent problem that he can't talk about because of confidentiality.

Either way, it is his responsibility to clearly express his expectations of you, and it's not your responsibility to try to guess what he's thinking or try to manage his moods. I know that's easy to say and not so easy to remember and carry out. Sorry, I know it sucks.

Not seeing him in person on the same predictable schedule will probably be difficult for you no matter what, so once you get a good plan in place and know what to expect, try to focus on tolerating the distress as much as you can.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:19 AM on July 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Could you describe the experience you were expecting? Seeing a client once a week for an hour is very different from engaging in an ongoing email conversation during the week. When I was a life coach, I had less luck with email than with the phone because there is no finite end to the email session, and the provider may end up spending much more time on the emails than the 50 minutes per session for which he's reimbursed.

This sounds like parameters weren't set at the outset and that you and he have differing ideas of what "email therapy" entails. I also encourage you to switch to phone sessions if possible, as L'Estrange Fruit suggests.
posted by catlet at 11:47 AM on July 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

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