Best Practices for Using Technology to Communicate with Your Patients

Many doctors are hesitant to communicate with their patients electronically. After all, doing so opens the doors to plenty of gray areas and questions—how to remain professional, how to avoid potential HIPAA concerns, and how to understand the potential impact on your time and revenue.

During a recent study conducted by TeleVox, 1,015 American consumers (ages 18+) were surveyed regarding their preferred method for communicating with their healthcare providers. Eighty-five percent said digital communications (text messages, emails, and voicemails) are just as helpful—if not more so—as in-person or phone conversations with their physicians. And more than 34 percent of respondents claimed that if they were to use some form of digital communication with their physician, they’d be more honest about their medical needs than if they were talking face to face.

And of the 66 percent of respondents who said they’ve received text messages, emails, and voicemails between doctor’s appointments, 51 percent said these types of communications made them feel more valued as a patient. And “three in ten U.S. consumers asserted that receiving text messages, voicemails or emails that provide patient care between visits would increase feelings of trust in their provider.”

So how do you navigate the world of electronic communication in order to accommodate your patients’ needs and improve your relationship with them? Here are a few steps you can take:

Consider Your Options

There are many forms of digital communication—email, phone, text—so assess which channels you feel comfortable using, which ones your patients would be most likely to use and find helpful, and which ones make the most sense for the types of information you’re likely to share.

As a result of this growing trend, doctors are already using a variety of technology mediums to communicate—emails filled with exercise and nutrition tips, voicemails to confirm upcoming appointments, and text messages to remind patients to take their medications or monitor their chronic conditions. So evaluate your options and tailor your communication mix to match your patients’ preferences as well as your own.

Remain Professional

Electronic communication between patients and physicians is permitted under HIPAA, but it’s important that your office does whatever it can to protect patient privacy and maintain a commitment to security. Unencrypted emails and text messages put your practice at risk for unnecessary exposure and a possible breach under HIPAA, so be sure to proceed with extreme caution.

During in-person visits, take steps to establish boundaries and educate your patients on the limitations of electronic communication. One idea is to write up an agreement or waiver for your patients to sign, confirming that they agree to receive electronic communications from your office and they understand that when information is sent electronically, there are risks that it could be intercepted or received by the wrong person.

Evaluate the Implications

Venturing into new channels of digital communication may feel like adding another to-do item to an already long list. But in reality, the amount of time it takes to send an email is typically much less than the amount of time it takes to conduct an in-person visit or a phone conversation. Many physicians have found that electronic communication methods have allowed them to run their practices’ day-to-day schedules more efficiently.

But as with any changes you make in patient services, be sure to address the issue of compensation. Establish an appropriate financial model to reflect the additional time commitment of your staff and the overall value of your office’s electronic communications, such as an annual or monthly membership fee for patients who’d like to receive these additional online services.

In the end, electronic communication should be used only if it truly works for both your patients and your practice. Taking the first steps, as outlined here, will help you use technology in a way that maximizes the benefits—more time, greater revenue, and stronger patient relationships for your practice; better healthcare and an increased level of trust for your patients.

 

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