For most professionals, the use of email for everyday business or personal communication has become standard. Email is quick, simple and efficient. However the use of email has yet to transcend into the healthcare profession. Rarely do healthcare providers- like hospitals, clinics or family physicians- use email to relay messages or information to their patients. Instead, administrational staff spend a significant amount of time contacting patients via telephone to confirm appointments, to schedule new appointments, to inform them of test results, to respond to patient inquires, or to gather insurance or other personal information. Patients, on the other hand, are often frustrated by lacking and inefficient communications with their physicians and important medical decisions are put on hold waiting for the delivery of test results through courier or regular postal mail. In a recent article, Dr. Joseph C. Kvedar of the Center for Connected Health in Boston, discussed the benefits and practicality of using email for physician-patient communication. Dr. Kvedar argues that the use of email can help to build a relationship of trust between patients and their doctors by creating a robust, clear and frequent line of communication between them. Furthermore, patients are more likely to follow physicians’ advice once this relationship of trust has been established. Dr. Kvedar also argues that email communications can often be better forms of communication for some situations, such as instructions for taking prescriptions. From a business perspective, he argues that email improves productivity and efficiency in the office as administrative staff are relieved of time consuming tasks, like playing phone tag with patients. Furthermore, physicians are able to retain more patients as improved communication lines create more satisfied and loyal patients.
Why email has yet to be utilized within the healthcare profession is debatable. Central to oppositional arguments against the use of email is the privacy and security concerns of patients. Email is not a secure method of communication and sending personal and confidential information through in the internet could leave patient information vulnerable to privacy breaches. Furthermore, recent cases of security concerns within medical institutions have highlighted some of the inherent risks associated with email communication (for instance sending confidential information to incorrect recipients). However Dr. Kvedar responds to these concerns by asserting that a physician’s priority should always be to provide the highest quality care to patients. Part of this is establishing a relationship of trust built on clear lines of communication. Security concerns should be addressed by taking the necessary precautions to ensuring patient confidentiality and information privacy, not by simply cutting these lines and resorting to more inefficient communication lines.
A simple solution to these concerns is using a secure file transfer solution that works similar to email, however unlike email, implements security precautions like data encryption and recipient verification, to mediate the risk of online file transfer. These solutions allow physicians or their administrative staff to communicate with their patients on a regular basis for less important messages like appointment dates, however also allow private information, like medical test results to be securely sent to patients with no risk of the unintended recipient intercepting or gaining access to the message. Furthermore, these solutions are more efficient than email at sending large files, so large medical files can securely be sent between physicians, patients and other medical professionals.