Re-thinking doctor-patient communications in the digital age

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Healthcare professionals should consider a digital dual citizenship when in comes to email because it would create a focus on digital communication strategies and push for clearer policies and accountability




Articolo di Eric Swirsky su CIO


Within business, healthcare and our social lives, email has become a preferred form of communication. Somewhere between the ubiquity of access and habits developed over years of use, we face the risk of entangling our professional and personal correspondence. All too often, users unwittingly leave digital footprints or cross the boundaries of personal and professional communication. Health professionals may find themselves at risk of revealing sensitive information or otherwise breaching duties of privacy or confidentiality.

In recent weeks, the appropriateness of email communication has come under heavy scrutiny as the media revealed that Hillary Clinton exclusively used a personal email account during her tenure as secretary of state. The personal email account was managed “through a private computer server that traced to her home”. The Clinton email debacle parallels some issues we are seeing within healthcare. Moreover, the controversy serves as an opportunity for professionals in all sectors to examine their current communication policies and determine whether the basic requirements for appropriate professional communications are being met.

So what can the medical community and Hillary Clinton learn from each other?

In the wake of the incident, Clinton remarked that she regretted not having two separate email accounts, which echoes a conversation within the academic medical community. Some scholars suggest the need for a “dual citizenship” approach within digital space to reflect and separate professional and social personae. This is solid advice for healthcare professionals because the way we communicate through technology is almost seamlessly interwoven into daily routine, and medical providers may not always be mindful of safeguarding patient privacy and confidentiality. Along with their habits, providers also may overestimate their patients’ knowledge of technology and how to mitigate associated privacy risks.

For example, I was recently talking to a physician about a challenging case involving a minor who had tested positive for HIV. The physician mentioned that he was communicating with his patient by email, and I asked him if he discussed the risks of this type of communication or included the conversation in the patient’s health record. He shot me a puzzled look and asked, “Why would I do that?” I didn’t want to state the obvious, but this is the sort of patient communication—a discussion of test results—that should be put into a patient’s chart. continua a leggere

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