Communication can come in many forms but at its most simplistic stage communication is basically the way two individuals interact with one another. For communication to be effective there must be a sender and a receiver. Modes of communication vary from written to oral, or verbal to nonverbal interactions. In our current age of technology many advancements in communication have evolved from slower methods such as handwritten letters to much faster methods such as texting and email. In the past communication between a provider and a patient could have taken days or even weeks, but with technology advancement communication can now be received within the same day, decreasing wait time for the patient. The following information will examine electronic mail (e-mail) communication as it relates to the provider and consumer, as well as how e-mail communication benefits the patient. Furthermore, information will be provided on how patient confidentiality is maintained, and explain why e-mail is such an effective tool between the provider and patient. In addition, information will be provided on how social networking and media might change communication in healthcare, and how e-mail is utilized to market health care related services and products. The benefit of e-mail communication
E-mail has been available to use for decades and as technology becomes more advanced society is able to access this technology through various devices other than a personal home computer. In our current time more individuals are carrying smart phones, tablets, and other electronic devices to access wireless internet data to include e-mail. This type of communication modality offers more opportunities for provider and patient to interact with one another on a more personal level. "Linking patients and physicians through e-mail may increase the involvement of patients in supervising and documenting their own health care, processes that may activate patients and contribute to improved health" (Mandl, Kohane, & Brandt, 1998, p. 495). Other benefits to e-mail consumers have, is this form of communication connects physicians with the consumer increasing the patients access to care. Providers can also utilize e-mail to enhance patient education by providing information electronically right to the patients e-mail in the comforts of their home. Those households that used e-mail to communicate with a provider reported an improvement with provider access as well as an improvement in their quality of care. In addition patients reported a more in-depth explanation of information and a much faster response time compared to more traditional communication methods such as phone calls (Barclay, 2007). This is especially beneficial to those who live far away from medical services. Maintaining patient confidentiality while using e-mail communication
Several decades back when e-mail was in its infancy, universal encryption protocol had not been developed for e-mail communication. To combat the possibilities of someone gaining access to sensitive information, individuals were instructed not to send any valuable information through e-mail. Over the years, as technology has evolved, e-mail has become more secure but hackers have also become more sophisticated at working around these technologies. With the inceptions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH), policies and procedures have gone into effect that protect the consumers privacy and confidentiality. In society today, providers and patients have the ability to send and receive secure encrypted e-mail. Because of internet threats and vulnerability, health care organizations keep their networks secure and maintained on a regular basis. Sending encrypted e-mail alone will not solve problems with lack of confidentiality. Users on both ends must use caution on their electronic devices. For example, it is not a good idea to walk away from a device and leave it logged in. These types of practices will leave the patients at risk of an information breach. Consumers must also use these practices and do a better job at utilizing tools such as firewalls, virus protection, and secure internet practices. Utilizing these tools is not enough, individuals must keep them up to date so they can perform their job as intended. It is imperative that patient information is protected so that confidentiality is not compromised (White, Moyer, Stern, & Katz, 2004). E-mail, an effective means of communication
There are many positive reasons why e-mail communication is effective between the patient and provider. For example, the patient and the provider do not have to waste one another's time playing phone tag and patients experience a faster response time from their provider. One of the biggest advantages of e-mail communication is that provider or health care organization can use the e-mail communication as documentation, scan it, and have it placed in the electronic record. According to Rosen (2009), "I give all my patients my e-mail; about 95% have internet. During the day, I usually answer e-mail within two hours; on weekends within 12 hours (Transcript). As technology becomes more advanced and health care facilities are able to protect patient information, the increase in e-mail communication will increase and become more routine in the future.
Differences between e-mail and other forms of communication
Utilizing e-mail communication between the provider and patient is not the only option of communication the provider has with his/her patients. For example, a provider has the means to utilize communication over the phone, but this type of communication requires both parties to be available for the communication to occur. Although messages can be left, they usually do not provide sufficient information and ultimately puts the consumer at a disadvantage because they must now contact the office and wait for the entire process to start over. Face-to-face communication, normally a patients preferred way to communicate, has its drawbacks because a provider usually has a limited amount of office time to spend with each patient. The patient does not always have the providers full attention and the quality of the conversation can be diminished. This may happen because of administration issues such as completing referrals, entering information into the data base, or requesting prescriptions. With e-mail communication the provider can concentrate with the task at hand and provide the patient with detailed reports. Furthermore, it does not require that the patient be available for the communication to take place. If the patient has further question or concerns he/she can reply back to the provider at their convenience and the communication can continue (Mandl, Kohane, & Brandt, 1998). How might media and social networking change communication in health care?
As technology further advances e-mail communication will become more utilized because society is using different types of media such as personal digital assistant (PDA's), tablets, and smart phones to access e-mail and communicate with their providers. These types of mobile media devices allow the consumer to continue a normal day versus the individual tied down at home waiting for a call from their provider. Society is beginning to see health care organizations use social networking sites such as Facebook to communicate with patients. Although social networking sites may never transform between the provider and patient for the use of personal communication, it would serve a as a foundation for providers to share valuable information and educate their patients as well as other consumers searching for information. By using social networking information can be placed online electronically reducing the use of paper and ink that saves organizations money in the long run. How is e-mail used to market products or services?
As expressed earlier technology is advancing at a rapid pace and e-mail has quickly become one of the principal methods of communication used in society. E-mail is used to market health care products as well as services. For example, an organization may offer a new product for migraine headaches and share this information with the consumer through e-mail. In another prospective an organization may use e-mail to inform their patient population with new medical services such as wellness programs. One of the biggest advantages about utilizing e-mail marketing is that it is free; no postage required. E-mail can also be used to connect with a distinct audience and offers an avenue to effectively communicate with consumers. With that being said one cannot ignore the ethical standards as well as laws put in place by the marketing industry.
The health care industry is in the business of customer satisfaction. To do this the industry is always looking for ways to improve communication. Modes of communication vary. Of course, in the past, the patient looked forward to face to face contact with the provider. In today's society time is of the essence. Everyone is looking to save time, yet be informed. Email is an efficient way to communicate. Through e-mail communication providers as well as health care organizations can inform, educate, and keep communication channels open. This is convenient method of communication for most consumers because many individuals have smart phones or tablets available at all times to check e-mail. These devices are also handy to access social networking sites that may also offer additional information to the consumer. As technology further evolves e-mail communication will become even more important between the provider and patient because this form of communication offers faster turnaround time. Health care organizations are also realizing the advantages of using e-mail as a marketing strategy because it is a free service that can save the organization large amounts of advertising dollars.
Barclay, L. (2007). Patient-physician email communication may be effective. Retrieved from http://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/563678 Mandl, K. D., Kohane, I. S., & Brandt, A. M. (1998, September). Electronic patient-physician communication. Annals of Internal Medicine, 129(6), 495-500. Retrieved from http://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/3382980/Mandl_Electronic.pdf?sequence=1 Rosen, P. (2009). Effective patient-provider email: A pediatrician's experience. Retrieved from http://www.innovations.ahrq.gov/webevents/index.aspx?id=3 White, C. B., Moyer, C. A., Stern, D. T., & Katz, S. J. (2004, July, August). A content analysis of e-mail communication between patients and their providers: Patients get the message. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 11(4), 260-267. doi:10.1197/jamia.M1445