The advancement of technology has changed all areas of life as it is known in the United States. Health care is no exception to the ever-changing world. Communications between health care providers and patients and between providers within the health care community. E-mail communications have proven beneficial to both patients and health care providers. When used correctly, e-mail communication also offers security to patients in relation to their personal health information using encryption.
E-mail is far form the only method of technologically advanced communications, and comparing and contrasting these differences will give further insight into the benefits of e-mail communication versus other forms of technology enhanced communication modalities. In addition to facilitating communication regarding patient health information, this modality of communication also enables health care providers to market products to patients.
Even though e-mail has come a long way toward advancing health care communications, technology is ever-changing and media and the advancement and use of social networking sites by health care facilities has further changed how the health care community uses e-mail communications. Even with all the changes that have come about through the introduction of e-mail communications, health care is, and should remain a personalized field, and must not allow technology to distance health care providers from their patients. E-mail Communications
E-mail communication is an electronic mail system that allows almost instant written messages to be sent to the receiver (Merriam-Webster, 2011). Even though e-mail is an electronic form of communication, it creates a written record of the communication.
Written records are valuable with health care communications, and e-mail communication allows providers and patients to capture records of communications as with traditional mail while still enabling the ease and speed of electronic communication. In health care, providers can use e-mail communication in many ways, from facilitating communication between the patient and provider or between providers to advertising health care services. E-mail is fast becoming a valued method for communication. Effective Method of Communication
Effective communication is vital in health care. No matter if that communication is between health care providers about a patient or between a health care provider and a patient, effective communication is vital to the care of the patient. E-mail communication offers health care service providers an effective form of communication to enable the facilitation of patient care. E-mail is an effective communication platform because it allows the participating entities to send and respond to communications in a timely manner.
E-mail communication also enables health care practitioners to convey directions in a written format that will ensure the patient or other health care provider has the exact information the communicator is conveying. Another benefit to e-mail communication is a decrease in paper use, which could financially benefit the health care office, thus allowing funds to be used for other functions and increasing the efficiency of the office (American Medical Association, 2011). Benefits to Patients
E-mail platforms for communications can benefit patients in many ways. The primary benefit to patients is maintaining a written record of their medical information.
When a patient visits a health care provider, the provider generally has many instructions for the patient. It can be difficult for the patient to keep track of all the information given during an office visit. If available, an e-mail record of the instructions would be beneficial because the patient would not have to try to either write everything down during the appointment or try to remember all the details of what his or her health care provider told him or her during the appointment. Benefits to Health Care Providers
As illustrated, e-mail communication offers many benefits to patients. The use of e-mail communication is also beneficial to the health care provider in many ways. As with the patient, the creation of a written record of the communication is a distinct benefit. With a written record of the communication, the practitioner has documentation of instructions given to the patient. This is important in this age of litigation minded individuals who will call an attorney for any perceived wrongdoing by any health care practitioner (American Medical Association, 2011).
Another benefit of e-mail communications for health care practitioners is faster and more accurate communication with other health care providers. Frequently health care practitioners will consult with colleagues on patient care. E-mail allows the requesting provider to formulate his or her thoughts into cohesive written form, which is easy for the receiver to understand and respond to in a timely manner. In addition to facilitating clear communication with other providers, e-mail allows providers to respond to requests without interfering with patient care by having to answer an untimely phone call from a colleague. The Need for Confidentiality
As with any format where health care providers are transmitting confidential patient information, e-mail must be secure to maintain patient confidentiality as directed by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). While HIPAA does not specifically address one form of electronic record transmission, it is clear that any electronic transmission of private patient information must be secure.
Through the installation of an encrypted e-mail system, health care providers and patients have assurance that the information transmitted is secure. In addition to using secured e-mail transmissions, health care providers must be sure they take every precaution available to ensure the security of patient information.
Some health care providers many elect to refrain from e-mail communication with patients out of fear of not following these HIPAA guidelines; however, these provides need only take simple steps to ensure the security of e-mail transmissions to patients (Internet Mail Consortium, 2011). Comparison with Other Communication Platforms
E-mail is not the only communication platform available to the health care community. As technology advances, so does the broad base of communication methods available to health care providers. Smart phone applications, automated computer phone calls, and text messaging are just a few of the available communication modalities available for use in the health care setting.
Smart phone applications, such as those offered by CVS Pharmacy and Caremark, allow patients to communicate with their pharmacies to order prescriptions, check order history, refills prescriptions, and check drug costs, all from a remote location (CVS Caremark, 2010).
Automated, computer generated phone messaging platforms allow health care providers to contact large numbers of individuals without taking valuable personnel away from critical patient care duties. One such use of the automated phone-messaging platform is to inform patients of test results. The computer calls and leaves a message for the patient to call the office to retrieve a secure message containing test results.
According to personal communication with T. Lewis, MD, at Hatfield Family Medicine (April, 4, 2011), the use of this system frees up the staff to attend to immediate patient care, while still notifying patients that the office has received the test results.
Text messaging is a relatively new communication platform that allows health care providers to send brief messages to patients. Generally, these messages would be appointment reminders, or that a patient’s mail-order pharmacy shipped his or her prescription order (CVS Caremark, 2011). By the very nature of text messaging, which is not completely secure, these messages are short and do not contain patients’ protected health information or other identifying information that could violate HIPAA security regulations. Marketing Potential
E-mail has potential for use as a marketing tool while facilitating communication between health care providers and patients. To supplement income or to cover the expense of an encrypted e-mail system, a health care provider may choose to charge other companies to place a banner ad within an e-mail that the provider sends to patients (Pointopoint, 2010). Health care professionals can also use e-mail to send out mass mailings, or newsletters, to all patients with an e-mail address on file.
Such newsletters can contain information about services the health care office currently provides, or announce new services or locations looming on the horizon. Through communicating with current patients, the health care practitioner can use e-mail as an effective marketing tool to increase business (Mednet Technologies, 2008). Media and Social Networking Influences
Social networking and evidence media influences are becoming more common within the health care community. According to Bennett (2011), 906 U.S. hospitals are using social networking sites to communicate with patients. The increase in social networking use by health care facilities may increase pressure on the health care providers associated with these facilities to incorporate e-mail communications into their daily practice.
The increase in media interest on the utilization of e-mail as a communication forum in health care could also exert pressure on health care providers to become more “tech savvy” and integrate e-mail as a working communication method. Conclusion
E-mail communication within the health care community has proven to be a valuable tool. The use of e-mail offers many benefits to both patients and health care providers while still maintaining patient confidentiality. Even though e-mail is not the only advanced communication platform available to health care providers, it is one of the most versatile forms of communication. By using e-mail not only as a communication method as a marketing tool, health care facilities can increase visibility of their services to patients.
With the advancement of technology a need and an obligation for the health care community to stay current has developed. With much media attention on the increase in health care facilities’ use of social networking, the pressure is on for all health care providers to offer e-mail as a communication option for patients. The time has come for health care communicationa to enter the 21st century and match the advanced care given to patients in the office with advanced care in communications with patients.
ReferencesAmerican Medical Association. (2011). Guidelines for physician-patient electronic communications. Retrieved from http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/about-ama/our-people/member-groups-sections/young-physicians-section/advocacy-resources/guidelines-physician-patient-electronic-communications.page. Bennett, E. (2011). Hospital social network list.