How do you deal with email when you’re away from clinic?

How does email make you feel?

I don’t know about you, but I can still recall the golden age of life BWE (before work email). Maybe you can remember a time in the past when you were finishing an A&E shift or an operating list, then then after all the patients were tucked up into bed, you left for the airport with friends or family. Very tired, maybe, but very devoid of the scourge of email.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m passionate about email when it comes to private practice growth, but the rest of the time, unless you govern it, it will end up ruining your mental bandwidth if you are away on holiday or at a conference.

Five Ninja Tips to ensure that you are the boss of your inbox.

   Plan ahead.

If you’re going away for a good few days, it’s worth putting a little note into your email signature two to three weeks before you clock out of clinical life. You can literally include a sentence describing your impending departure and how you are going to have a proper break, thanks very much. Type it in a colourful, bold font and let patients and referrers start getting the message that you are going to be out of town.

Whilst this won’t stop the ‘last minuters’ clawing at your heels, it will at least help to steer expectations of the people who are getting in touch with you, in the days leading up to your annual leave.

You may even want to think about declaring in advance, whether you are going to see any new patients in the week before you leave. Squeezing in initial consultation will often create difficulties when you don’t have time for a follow up with a patient. It invariably leads to patients pestering you (by email) for urgent results, just when you want to be putting your feet up in the airport lounge with a glass of something bubbly.

You might want to include in your email signature, something along the lines of…”

“Dr Cath is taking a much needed break to recharge, and she is going to be away on a desert island with no Wi-Fi and will be leaving on the 4th June. She is not going to see any new patients until her return on the 1st of July. She’ll be replying to all emails upon her return, and if you have an urgent problem, please ring her secretary on blah blah blah.”

Remember: The out of office system, doesn’t have to be used only when you are out of the office. You can also activate it a few days before you leave and write whatever you like in the message, including, “yep, ‘tis true, I’m leaving smoggy Londinium for the Maldives.”

   Decide if there will be a reply, and by whom.

I will confess I used to struggle with disconnecting, and often we are at risk of being clinical martyrs, replying to emails from patients and clinicians throughout the days that we are away.

Why don’t you try some of these ideas…

What if you were to set the out of office with an extra little safety netting? A phone number that somebody could call if their arms and legs were falling off (and then simply stop replying to those emails?)

Decide if it’s possible to forward a patient request or question onto a medical administrator.

Can you have a little cosy chat with your med sec about how you are handling or deflecting your requests for…
How is my MRI looking?
Can I get a further prescription?
Can I have a letter for my insurer?

If there is a messy problem (e.g. a post-op patient who might potentially have a wound infection) can you buddy up in advance with a clinical colleague who might be able to step in when the poop hits the fan?

  Stop using your inbox as a to-do list for your return.

Instead set up three new Ninja holiday files and then tip the email into these files for you to action later.

1. Reply when I’m back.

2. File in the patient notes.

3. Set a date to action this.

Use your trash bin liberally.

The GDPR at least has some positive effects on thinning out our inboxes (hopefully). If you are looking at emails when they are coming in, you should quickly be able to spot anything urgent amongst all of those unhelpful emails, desperately asking you to present at a tin-pot conference in Wisconsin.

   Be realistic about your disconnection if patients have direct access to you.

Everyone has patients in their practice that they may have concerns about and want to keep an eye on, or patients that you would promptly want to be told about if they were getting into difficulty. Depending on your time zone, you might want to have a quick squiz through your inbox first thing every morning, to make sure there is no crises occurring. Then set yourself a second timeslot for ‘work’, spending fifteen minutes a day (or half an hour every other day), either deleting, replying to, or forwarding-on those email to their respective persons. Do this by around 4 pm and it still gives your Med Sec time to action it before the end of the day.

I think this strategy works better than getting home to the inbox of hell and having 650 emails to reply to on a tired Sunday evening when you might be jet lagged.

I make my husband aware that I am about to do this and I typically invite him to make me a G&T (a.k.a. Electric Sander, because it takes the edge off – tee hee) during that time, so that he can feel useful.

  Upon your return…

Give yourself a couple of hours catching up upon your return to action what needs to happen, from your Three Ninja Holiday files. You could either get a head start the evening before or even maybe start your first clinic an hour later – shock horror.

Finally, remember that whilst we might think our patients are expecting a reply there and then, most of them just want to get what’s in their head into an email and off their chest, so that its someone else’s problem.

On the whole, patients generally respect that we work like maniacs and need the time out to re-charge. And as for those self-centred patients? Well, they will still be there (waiting) when you get back home.


If you feel like your Private Practice needs help with gaining referrals, effective ways to work within social media, or you have questions about GDPR, then we’re here to help.

Together we can grow your Private Practice.

Get in touch!



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