Communicating with Patients

Communication is the cornerstone of the physician-patient relationship.  Poor communication can damage a patient’s confidence in a physician and lead to non-compliance and complaints about care.  To reduce the likelihood of these issues, physicians should develop policies and procedures for communicating with patients during telephone calls and through electronic communication.

As with all physician-patient communication, documentation of telephone conversations, messages and responses belong in the medical record.  The entry should include the date and time of the call, the caller’s name, concern, and action taken.  Personnel should direct medical questions to the physician or nurse, and any subsequent advice or direction provided should be documented. To protect patient confidentiality, refrain from releasing medical information over the phone unless the patient has provided express written authorization to do so.

The use of electronic communications has become increasing popular in the medical field.  If used appropriately, it can be a convenient and inexpensive tool for making appointments, enhancing follow-up patient care, providing test results, and supplementing the written record.

The physician who is considering using an automated website or email as a communication tool should first determine the parameters of and security required for that communication. Prescription refill, appointment scheduling, and follow-up for test results are some ways properly secured email can be utilized. The physician should then develop templates for that communication. Patients who are interested in using email as a communication tool should be instructed on how it should and should not be used and will need to sign an informed consent that details these terms.

While electronic communication can be a useful and efficient means of communication, physicians should take precautions to observe privacy, security and confidentiality laws to avoid potential consequences for inadvertent disclosures and data breaches. The physician should develop appropriate security safeguards to ensure the information communicated cannot be reached by third-parties. It is wise to employ a back-up system with all physician-patient emails, as these are subject to electronic discovery and may need to be produced should litigation arise.

Additional ResourceAuthorization for Verbal Communication and/or Voicemail.

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