Using E-mail to Communicate With Your Patients
In these busy times, it’s no surprise that the patient-doctor relationship has eroded. Increased productivity requirements have shortened the amount of time you have to spend with each patient so many physicians are opting to communicate with patients via email.
Use of the internet for communication has become common practice to stay in touch with friends, business colleagues and family members. There’s no reason why it can’t be incorporated into the patient-physician relationship. The most obvious reason is the convenience factor. Often times, you are unable to return phone calls to patients during the course of a busy clinical day.
Email offers you the opportunity to answer their questions at any time, day or night, and leaves a written communication that can be easily filed within the patient’s chart for future reference. In addition, it gives you additional time to consult with colleagues or research a particular question that’s been posed. Of course, it wouldn’t be appropriate for emergencies or other urgent matters; however, there are a number of circumstances that will have you embracing the new technology.
- Providing simple test results along with your interpretation and instructions.
- Answering routine questions. i.e. What is an effective over the counter allergy pill?
- Acknowledging a prescription refill request.
- Offering links to articles or websites relevant to their health.
- Sending newsletters containing information about office hours, parking or traffic detours.
Patient confidentiality and their right to privacy should always be at the forefront of your mind with every email communication. The American Medical Association has developed guidelines for physician-patient electronic communications.
This type of interaction enables patients to feel empowered by taking control of their healthcare and reaching out to their physician instead of searching the internet for answers. While the AMA has offered guidelines, it’s at the discretion of each individual practice to develop their own standards for implementing this method.
Some of the examples cited above are marketing tools to enhance your practice’s image and would be initiated by you. Others relate to patient care and since email communication is not covered by insurance companies, you are free to set up your own fee schedule. It’s likely that a number of patients would feel comfortable paying a nominal fee instead of co-pay for simple answers but you can modify the charges based on the feedback you receive.
Email communication isn’t meant to eliminate other forms of patient communication but instead, to enhance the patient experience and solidify the patient-physician relationship. It provides a valuable resource for patients seeking to understand their health, illness or treatment.
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