Today, if you ask physicians about the most intimidating part of their practice, most of them would state the challenge of online communication with patients.
Virtual communications through the digital platforms can be better described as a challenge of the 21st century for physicians. The intersection of health and technology has brought along an entirely new segment of online health consumers, who prefer to be their own health advocates. The changes due to the Affordable Care Act and growing demands of empowered patients have put sudden pressure on physicians who juggle hectic work schedules. While these new platforms provide a better method for physicians to directly communicate with patients and market themselves, the fact remains that they are not taught online marketing skills in medical school. Though many of them have embraced digitalization and are adopting these changed practices, dealing with the new mode of virtual communication still remains a challenge to overcome.
What are the steps doctors can take to improve their communication skills with patients while adhering to the HIPAA guidelines?
While interacting with patients on the online platforms, physicians should always adhere to the roots of this noble profession: humanism, integrity, ethics, professionalism and trust. The American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards have stated their recommendations for online medical professionalism. Emerging digital trends will continue to change the landscape of the physician-patient relationship. As this change is here to stay, physicians have no better choice than to familiarize themselves with these technologies to guide themselves, and their patients, as they navigate the online terrain. To expand practice in this new horizon, ethically and responsibly, physicians must always keep in mind the following:
Take the first step to protect your online reputation and request your Online Reputation Assessment.
Privacy and confidentiality of patient information should always be the top priority. While using any online platform, physicians should be mindful of standards for patient privacy and confidentiality, which must be maintained in all environments. They should adopt a conservative approach for disclosing personal information about any patient, as online channels are public and can be accessed by anyone.
- Physicians are encouraged to take a proactive approach to managing their digital identity by routinely performing surveillance of publicly available material.
- All physicians who use social media channels to communicate with patients should familiarize themselves with the privacy settings and terms of agreements for social media platforms to which they subscribe. They should maintain strict privacy settings on personal accounts.
- While interacting with patients on the Internet, physicians must be watchful to maintain appropriate boundaries of the patient-physician relationship in accordance with professional ethical guidelines, just as they would in any other context. Overstepping these boundaries may result in serious detrimental impact to their career. Professional distance and privacy are appropriate for both physician and patient.
- As a physician, it’s your responsibility to provide factual and concise information, declare any conflicts of interest and adopt a sober tone when discussing professional matters. Your patients and other people following you on the social sites refer to what you have written, will assume that you have provided medically correct information and they may act upon it or make decisions on its basis.
It’s said that physicians are lifelong learners as they continuously learn and evolve with technological advancements, new drug delivery methods, the latest treatments and so on. Now they have another big item on the list: learn and embrace the digital way to health. All they need is to be mindful and reflective of their professional commitments and work ethics while discovering better ways to engage and care for patients.