Healthcare is now experiencing a rapid increase in the use of email and text messaging and social media in general to communicate with patients. There are benefits and risks involved in the use of such technology to both the patient and to the health practitioner.
Minimising your risk
In general terms, this form of communication should only happen where the practitioner deems it to be clinically appropriate and where a face-to-face consultation is unnecessary for that patient. Practitioners need to consider the quality and safety of care they can provide to patients via electronic means.
In summary, some things you can do to minimise your risk:
- Ask about a policy's in your workplace for this service – guidelines regarding who can send, receive and respond
- Obtain your patient’s consent for electronic communication and document this
- Be mindful of privacy breaches – routinely check patient personal details
- Limit content to non-sensitive non-essential issues such as appointment and non-urgent recall reminders
- If sensitive/essential, state “need to return to the practice about your result”
- Include all these communications in the medical record
- If a patient does not return when recalled, try an alternative method of contacting, eg registered post letter
- Moreover, it is also advisable to state what type of information will be sent via email, eg general information, appointment notifications/reminders, patient/medical history
- Generally, when an email address is provided this is implied consent for a practitioner to use it, however, it is advisable to state that the address will be used.
The RACGP provide some valuable resources, namely:
Text messaging in general practice RACGP best practice
Criterion 1.1.2 Telephone and electronic communications www.racgp.org.au/standards/112