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March 16, 2011

Physician Communication in the 21st Century: To Talk or to Text?

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, and Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation, Yale−New Haven Hospital, New Haven, Connecticut (Dr Horwitz); and Departments of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation and Medicine, University of Toronto, and Department of Medicine, Mount Sinai Hospital and University Health Network, Toronto, Ontario, Canada (Dr Detsky).

JAMA. 2011;305(11):1128-1129. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.324

In the 20th century, physicians traditionally communicated with each other using handwritten notes in medical charts, consultant letters, telephone calls, and face-to-face conversations.1 Technological advances in communication in the first decade of the 21st century have led to the ubiquitous use of e-mail on desk-based computers as well as mobile communication devices. Smartphones now account for more than one-quarter of the US cell phone market,2 and for the past 2 years customers in that market have sent more text messages than made calls.3 It would seem that this technological progress in communication would improve continuity of care for patients. However, between the rise of the hospitalist movement, restrictions of house staff work hours, and the increasing specialization of medicine, fragmentation of care has never been greater. Is it time to rethink how physicians communicate?