More and more people are clamouring for the ability to communicate with their doctor through email and social media. In fact, a recent study from the Journal of General Internal Medicine reports that 37 percent of patients have emailed their doctor while 18 percent used Facebook to get in touch with their physician. It behooves medical professionals to embrace electronic communication with patients but it’s important to be smart about it.
While patients would like to be able to communicate with their doctors via electronic channels, physicians have been slow to adapt to this. Some healthcare professionals have embraced this by using email, Facebook or specialized healthcare communication apps to better engage with their patients.
The results have been positive as patients have easier access to their physicians using technology they are comfortable with. Of course, if your practice or healthcare organization is thinking about embracing doctor-patient electronic communication, it is important to set up guidelines to make sure both sides fully understand the process. Here are a few things you should consider before using electronic communication to chat to patients.
Chances are you don’t want patients bombarding your email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn or any other social media profiles you might have with queries about their health. Before engaging patients using electronic communication, establish what media you wish to have patients contact you through. Email is the most reliable method while setting up a professional Facebook page is also a viable option. Whatever you do, make sure you keep your personal and professional social media and email accounts separate. If a patient ever tries to contact you through a personal account, direct them to your professional one.
A lot of people believe using social media, email or other channels of electronic communication should lead to fast, if not immediate, response times. As a healthcare professional, you probably won’t be able to answer most questions as soon as they land in your inbox. Establish an acceptable response time within your electronic communication guidelines that lets patients know when they can expect to hear back from you. Something between 24 to 48 hours is ideal in most cases.
Security is always important especially when it comes to the exchange of health information. You will always want to check that you are sending the right information to the correct individual. It is also a good idea to have one email address or account from which patients can ask you questions from. This will help eliminate possible fraudulent activity. If you do think one of your patients has had their account hacked, or the information you need to share is sensitive, it is best to have them call or come into the office.
One of the main issues from a doctor’s perspective when it comes to electronic communications is what you will and will not answer. For starters, you don’t want to be fielding questions about appointments, payments or the weather. You also don’t want to be giving away medical advice and opinions on a free basis as people will stop coming to your practice altogether and just solicit you for free information online. One policy to consider is to only answer questions from patients based on upcoming or completed visits. This will help eliminate frivolous queries from your patients.
If you don’t feel comfortable using email or social media to talk to patients or you want a system that is a little more comprehensive, there are several applications on the market designed specifically for healthcare providers. Not only do these enhance doctor-patient communication using mobile devices, but can also allow for video chat, scheduling and a host of other features along with direct messaging. These often tend to be more secure than email and social media as well.
Communication between physicians and patients will continue to move from traditional channels to electronic ones. Failing to adapt will only frustrate your current patients and make new patients less likely to consider you. Contact us today if you’re interested in learning more about how electronic communication in regards to healthcare works and what you can do to embrace it successfully.