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Emailing Patients: Before You Hit Send

If your practice has not taken the time to evaluate the use of electronic communications and email best practices, now is the time to start.

In today’s world, it is not uncommon to encounter patients that are increasingly demanding of your time, patients that are looking for your immediate attention and even patients that are willing to document their interactions with you.

Evidence of this is visible in a charted email that I recently came across. The email read, “I’m sending you an email to document that I notified you of the issues I was having with my new medication.”

In light of such situations, if your practice has not taken the time to evaluate the use of electronic communications and email best practices, now is the time to start.

Patient-Physician Electronic Communication

The American Medical Association has Guidelines for Patient-Physician Electronic Mail that state: “New communication technologies must never replace the crucial interpersonal contacts that are the very basis of the patient physician relationship. Rather, electronic mail and other forms of Internet communication should be used to enhance such contacts.”

With this in mind, you will ultimately need to decide if email is the best form of communication for the information you wish to provide.

If you do choose to communicate with patients via email, you should consider establishing communication policies and procedures that include guidelines such as:

  • Establishing a written email policy that includes the designated individual(s) to whom email messages should be sent.
  • Obtaining signed consent from the patient(s) who you will be communicating with via email.
  • Adding a disclaimer to all of your emails. The disclaimer should advise patients that their email has been received and include a timeframe for when they should expect a response.
  • Including a reminder in your disclaimer to call 911 in the case of an emergency and to call the office directly for more urgent clinical concerns rather than sending an email.
  • Documenting your response to any/all patient emails.

Protecting patient confidentiality is another key element to consider when it comes to email. Therefore, you need to be proactive in assessing the potential risks of electronic communications in order to determine which, if any, formats meet the needs of your practice and your patients.

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