How to Communicate Electronically: 5 Things Not To Do

Medical Practice Team We all know that there are many, many minefields in the electronic world for physicians. HIPAA, general patient privacy expectations, personal identity theft and medical identity theft are just a few of the concerns every provider and practice should have these days. Despite these concerns, patients, in particular, want their physicians and other health care providers to communicate with them electronically. (For the purposes of this article, electronic communication is referring to texting, use of e-mail, and/or social media.) So, how can a physician meet this patient need and communicate effectively and responsibly with them without putting themselves or their practice in jeopardy? recently posted a nice article telling physicians what NOT to do when communicating electronically. Their 5 suggestions, were:

1. Physicians should never attempt to diagnose new conditions or treat them. Instead, they should ask patients to make an office appointment.

2. Physicians should never try to address emergencies via electronic communication. Instead, they should tell patients to call the office and/or to go to the emergency room.

3. Physicians should not “link” patients to third-party educational materials unless they are 100% confident that they know the information they contain and are from a reputable source.

4. Because electronic information can be used in litigation, physicians should never communicate information that may be inaccurate or inappropriate.

5. Don’t practice medicine on any sort of social media. This means: don’t discuss individual patients, suggest treatments, or give medical advice. Social media is not on HIPAA-compliant secure networks.

And, of course, it should be noted that any and all electronic communication should only be done over professional work devices (not personal ones, like a physician’s own smart phone, for example) with secure networks. So, it’s not just what you’re saying, it’s also how you’re saying it. And, as my mom used to say, “When in doubt, don’t.”

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