The Smart Medical Practice

Medical Practice Tips: Don’t Get Sued for Inappropriate Emails


DocSuedInappropriateEmailAdvances in technology have made it possible to communicate with patients via electronic devices, but that does not mean it is always a smart decision. Physicians should always be aware of the potential pitfalls and downsides associated with electronic communication solutions.

Accidental Breach of Privacy

As a physician, you are responsible to maintain doctor-patient confidentiality and protect the personal information of every patient. A downside associated with electronic communication, particularly on mobile devices, is the risk of accidentally giving away sensitive data due to a security issue or even just using a device in an inappropriate location. In general, communication with patients must always take place within the confines of a HIPAA secure patient portal. Here are some other considerations as well.

Doctors must be aware of the potential risks associated with the actions and location of the use of electronic devices. For example, using a mobile device to send a text message or email to a patient in any public location can be a breach of doctor-patient confidentiality. You can accidentally give other individual’s access to your patient’s personal data, which is a breach of his or her privacy.

Potential Negligence

Negligence is not always an intentional action. In fact, it is usually related to forgetfulness or acting in a way that is not appropriate without realizing that there is a risk associated with the action.

When you use electronic communication to provide patients with updated information, the results of their medical tests or any other sensitive data, you are taking the risk of facing charges for negligence unless you take careful measures to prevent any risks from occurring.

An example of negligence may be sending an email to a patient’s unsecure work email address rather than an authenticated personal address. Since your patient is not the only individual with access to the account, there is a risk that certain decisions or actions may be taken against the individual when an email is sent to an unauthorized address with details regarding treatments, a diagnosis or other concerns.

The Social Media Risks

Although it is possible to use electronic communication to keep your patients updated if you take care to avoid any potential risks of sharing the information with unauthorized individuals, you should be aware of the risks associated with social media, which is by nature unsecure.

The rule here is to just never share any data about a patient over social media. Social media pages have a limited amount of security and the data is seldom encrypted, and even if you set the security features to the best options that are available, Social Media sites are not concerned with HIPAA level security. Generally, social media should focus on marketing and advertising rather than communicating with patients.

The problem is that patients or potential patients may ask questions over social media. Although it’s a great way to meet a new potential patient, focus on providing answers in a generalized manner. Never give any specifics about a specific case that could identify a patient, and avoid discussing personal cases at all; instead, offer suggestions for maintaining good health that can apply to any individual and recommend that individuals seek advice from a medical professional for thier specific questions or concerns.

Electronic communication may be a useful tool, but physicians should be aware of the potential dangers and pitfalls associated with the innovations in technology. By taking measures to improve security and avoid potential privacy risks, it is possible to make use of technological tools and communication solutions that are secure and HIPAA compliant.

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