Health care communication is a relatively young field and has emerged as a result of health care experts analyzing the power of information in the health care industry. Health care professions have realized that human communication is one of the most powerful tools that can be used to tackle health care issues. It is important in facilitating the flow of information between patient and health care professionals, between the professionals themselves and among the patients. There are various modalities of communication that can be used to relay medical information. They include the telephone, the mail, newspapers, television, radios and the web.
The web has various modalities in itself that are emerging as useful for information dissemination. This includes chats rooms, health care related blogs, and social networks such as Facebook, bulletin boards or news groups and the email. All these modalities offer varying degrees of efficiency and privacy and users choose them according to reliability. Therefore the email is one of the most efficient health care communication modality that can be utilized effectively in health care communication.
The Email as a communication modality in health care
Electronic mail (email) is emerging as one of the most popular communication modality used today in passing and documenting health care information. The email is handy in facilitating information flow from doctors to patients, patients to patients and doctors to doctors. Its emerging popularity is because of the levels of privacy that it guarantees the users. This is because an email is user specific only accessible to the user through security code.
A physician can send private and confidential information to the patient directly. The privacy of this information is further guaranteed by the fact that there are no intermediaries required to relay it. The email is asynchronous and thus functions like the telephone and the written letter. The email also allows for enough time for the communicants to communicate as it is not time bound (Holmes 1997; Holmes 1998).
The benefits of email
The email has various benefits in health care communication to both the physicians and the patients. The email has various favorable characteristics that are beneficial in the health care service information transfer. It is a very effective tool in allowing asynchronous and rapidly quick message transfer between. The advantage of email over the letter is that it can allow for both formal and informal communication between patients and physicians.
The email also allows the recipient to read the message at their own convenience thus avoiding the telephone tag. This means that the patient or physician can access emails at their own convenience thus guaranteeing privacy of information. Such privacy is relevant in relaying confidential medical information as it means that an authorized email access is minimal. Furthermore the email has user specific identity which means that the recipient knows from whom the message originates. Privacy is further guaranteed by use of password as means of access. This reduces unauthorized access to emails and as such patients and doctors are sure that medical information is safe. Another beneficial advantage in the use of emails in health care information provisions is that it can facilitate the attachment of documents.
Therefore patients and physicians can transfer information such as scanned images; medical records processed using programs that the internal email mechanism does not support and huge documents that cannot fit into emails. Despite fact that an email can prompt a reply from the recipient, the reply is at the discretion of the recipient. Therefore doctors cannot use the email to coerce medical and personal information from patient. Patients thus reveal information willfully (Gerstle, 2004).
The email has various benefits to the health care provider compared to other modalities of communication. The traditional method involves archiving medical reacord in files and then strings those files on shelves or cases. This resulted in accumulation of huge volumes of information that were difficult to manage. It took time to access particular patient’s information as it involved going through voluminous records and files before such information is retrieved.
Sometimes it was impossible to access particular information if the archiving criterion used was wrong. However the invention and adaptation of email has made retrieval and storage of medical record easier. Emails messages have been declared official information and as such health care providers are using the email as not only a tool to transmit message to their patient but as an efficient storage facility for medical records. Health care providers are finding that it is a friendly form of information storage as it significantly reduces the amount of office space needed to store medical data. Retrieving this information is also easer.
Doctors store emails messaged from patients in their original format thus avoiding any form of summarization that may loose the patient perspective. As such the patient’s perspective becomes part of the medical record history. Some email contains algorithms that allow for ease in search of certain records as practitioners only have to type in specific word and the information they want I found instantly. Furthermore doctors can use email to access medical records from any location provided there is internet connection (Dyer, Levin & Shea, 2006).
The email is also of particular importance to the patient. Patients are increasingly using the email to book and confirm appointments with their doctors. Patients are also using emails to request for a refill of prescription or even to request for an alternative prescription for their ailments. The email is also very useful to the patients as they can confirm billing issues before committing to specific health care providers. They are also able to decide on which provider to engage. Other than these, patients are increasingly using email to request medical referrals and also obtain medical test results. Furthermore patients also find the email useful in providing medical follow up reports to their doctors (Gerstle, 2004).
Ethical parameters regarding the use of email
There are certain aspects that define the ethical parameters within which the email should be used in maintaining patient physician confidentiality without breaching professional ethics. Furthermore the email should not be used to establish any other form of communication other than medical related. Therefore any communicate that may set the basis for establishment of inordinate relationship between patient and physicians such as it may lead to a love affair is considered unprofessional and unethical. In this case both the patient and the physician are liable to ethical responsibility regarding the use of email as a mode of communication.
Because an email is a more person mode of communication both the patient and the doctor should present the information in such a manner that it does not have any other implied meaning, as such email communication should only be for the purpose of passing medical information. Both parties should understand that the email has in itself inherent limitation of use and as such should accept these limitations and use the modality. Limitations such as email notifications of messages and the possibility of email hacking are possible. Therefore both parties should not hold the other party responsible should the said limitations hinder effective communication.
Ethical standards also require that both parties establish the extent to which the email can be used to communicate and the information, such as test results, prescriptions, billing and others, which can or cannot be relayed through emails. Furthermore any email password should be safely guarded to avoid the risk of unauthorized access to especially the physicians’ email address (American Medical Association, 2010).
The difference between email and other modalities
The email has several differences from the other modes of communication. As explained earlier the email can multi task. It can be used for communicating both formally and informally and is instant unlike the traditional letter. Traditional means of communication such as the written letter and telephone can only relay written and audio information respectively, the email can facilitate both. It is possible to attach both written docent such as medical reports, ex ray extracts and audio messages in an email. The email also guarantees the delivery of messages unlike a phone which may sometime be busy thus cutting communication. The other difference between the emails is that it is more secure than the telephone and the traditional letter. Any other person, such as family an friends can easily open patients medical letters and receive telephone calls. For email t s more secure because it requires the use or a password to access (Gerstle, 2004).
The influence of email on social sites
The appreciation of the email as valid communication modality has opened up the use of other web based communication modalities such a chat rooms and blogs. The email only facilitates passing of information but may not facilitate discussion groups. Therefore patients have found some blogs and social networking sites viable communication tools especially in sharing health related information. Discussion groups in social sites such as Facebook and My Space as well as blogs such as planetcancer.org and teenswithcancer.org facilitate sharing of information and support. The said blogs are popular support tools for teenagers struggling with any form cancer. Bloggers can also upload audio information in such sites (Kotler, Shalowitz & Stevens, 2008).
Kotler, Shalowitz and Stevens (2008) argue that marketing of health services is pervasive but patients need information on the lasted health care products and services. As such email can be used to supplement other advertising media to market health care solution. Health care providers with permission from patients can use email to send information about the latest health care products available in the market. Recently Health Market Science, a provider of health care data has been launched. Health Market Science uses the email as a marketing means and has already attracted tens of thousands of clients (Life Science Leader, 2010). The importance of email is because it offers effective marketing strategies and is client specific.
Email is emerging as one of the most effective tools for use in provision of health care information. It makes it easier to provide information and is also useful as an advertising tool. The most important feature of email is the ability to carry both written and audio data. As such it becomes a hybrid between a phone and the written letter. Even through it is one of the most secure modes of communication it still subject to abuse. Therefore stringent rules should be enforced to make sure that it is used appropriately.
American Medical Association (2010). Guidelines for physician-patient electronic communications. Web.
Gerstle, R. (2004). A statement of reaffirmation for this policy was published on August 1, 2008. Pediatrics, 114 (1). Web.
Holmes, L. (1997). Who regulates health on the net? About. Web.
Holmes, L. (1998). Online modalities – email and bulletin boards. About. Web.
Kotler, P., Shalowitz, J., & Stevens (2008). Strategic marketing for health care Organizations: building a customer-driven health system. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
Life Science Leader (2010). Health market science announces immediate availability of Email masterful for healthcare industry. Life Science Leader. Web.