Friday, September 4, 2009

Doctor to Patient: Electronic Connection Concerns

With today’s technology rapidly expanding with bloggers, tweeters, and instant messaging, one has to wonder how long it will take before doctors and patients start communicating via the Internet more regularly.

According to a recent article in The Medical Post, use of e-mail by physicians in order to manage patient care is indeed becoming more common. However, what’s noted is that physicians aren’t as eager to establish an electronic link with their patients. It’s the patients wanting to establish a quicker link to their medical practitioner. If you were to look at the availability of ailments, cures, medicines, and interactions on the Internet, it makes sense that patients want better links with their doctors.

A simple example case would be someone wanting to send a quick message to their doctor asking if it’s normal to feel a ‘little bloated’ while taking a new medication. Most certainly that individual could contact the pharmacy to seek support, but not all patients are comfortable with their Pharmacist…certainly not to the same familiarity as their family doc. And, because the question is a simple one, making an appointment doesn’t warrant the expenditure to obtain confirmation of the symptom being experienced.

The Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), the country’s principle provider of medical liability protection for physicians is now offering support for the physicians who use e-mail to communicate with their patients. To minimize the legal liabilities associated with electronic communication between physician and patient, the CMPA has identified some potential key areas of concern. Physicians are directed to:

Ø Review the applicable federal, provincial, college, and regulatory requirements affecting the use of e-mail transmitting patient information.

Ø Consider the implications of confidentiality, privacy and security. To this point, they ask that physicians not use free-mail or internet-based services to transmit information. So for patients using Hotmail or Gmail, you’ll need to subscribe to a home based or subscriber based service.

Ø Timeliness of responses. E-mail in particular can vary in timeliness from both the sender and the receiver as firewalls, and reliance of the service provider could impede prompt communications.

Ø And, Clarity of communications. Written communication lacks emotion, including sensitivity to the recipient of the text information.

To assist physicians, the CMPA created a consent form for the physician and patient to complete, outlining guidelines for both users to follow in order to address the above risk factors.

So now comes the question in all of this: Would YOU correspond with your physician via e-mail or texting for ‘simple’ reasons (ie – setting an appointment, request for bloodwork, et al)? In today’s age of secure electronic technology, probably the bigger question is how important is it to you to have an electronic link to your physician? And, are the risks greater than the return with this ‘new’ form of communication?

Today’s physicians are managed with more complexity than days of our fathers and grandfathers. Lawsuits and patient expectations have grown as patients arm themselves with more information about symptoms and treatments available around the globe. In Canada, the government has managed to delve deeper in the management of health care as one of its prerogatives of providing the funding for all Canadians to enjoy. This means a greater workload for all physicians, who may want to opt for a more efficient means of meeting their patients’ needs.

The roadblock right now though, is the liability associated with societies growing greed to hold all liability claims (whether incurred intentionally or not) to a subjective price tag.

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