Email has become one of the most accessible forms of communication for many people. The hustle and bustle of everyday life has made e-mail a favorable form of communication for a variety of industries, including the healthcare industry. Corresponding via e-mail is just one way healthcare providers can forge trusting bonds with their patients, resulting in a long-term relationship beneficial for both parties.

An effective patient email system is a quick, flexible method of communication that trumps telephone correspondence for a number of reasons. Email shouldn’t be used as a means to replace office visits, or as a way to diagnose medical issues. Rather, this method of communication should be used to further explain and highlight the issue at hand, or to relay important clinic information.

Benefits of E-mail Correspondence
There are a variety of perks that come with integrating email into patient care. Parties can read and send messages on their own time, and can store important information for reference, if needed. This type of information can include medication instructions, for instance.

It is not uncommon for patients to have difficulty comprehending certain medical terms used during office visits. Appointments can often carry a sense of nervousness for patients, making them less likely to fully speak up about issues that may be affecting them. By utilizing email to further explain a diagnosis, or to clarify what was discussed during a visit, a patient has the opportunity to dissect information in a calm environment that allows for greater concentration and comprehension. They will also have access to other tools to help them understand what certain medical terms mean. Following up office visits with an email that includes instructions for care can result in higher quality healthcare for the patient – the ultimate goal for any medical practice.

Save Time with E-mail Correspondence
While some clinicians may worry about email being demanding, some published reports suggest that time spent on daily correspondence can be minimal (1). In fact, utilizing email can banish the need for repeat phone calls, saving clinics on time and resources. Use email to communicate general information, such as changes to business hours, appointment reminders and payment schedules. While implementing and maintaining a suitable email system does require work, the result can lead to long-term benefits for your practice.

It may take time and various attempts to determine the most effective way to handle incoming and outgoing email messages from patients. Setting aside a specific time during the workday for a designated party to send and respond to email is a great method to maintain consistency. Consistency is key when beginning a patient email system with the potential to significantly improve how your practice operates.

Gain Insight with Patient Surveys
Utilizing email can be a highly useful way of gathering data that may help you grow your clinic. There is an enhanced sense of comfort that comes from communicating via email, which promotes honesty among patients. Surveys, for instance, are an effective form for gauging how well your services are being received. A follow-up survey of a patient’s experience can provide valuable insight into your office’s operations. Was your staff friendly and courteous? Was your patient frustrated with wait time? Were all of their concerns addressed during the visit? All of these can offer great opportunity for improvement. If a patient feels like their opinion matters, they are more likely to stick with you in the long run. Email can also serve as an effective marketing method. From “Thank you” notes to invitations to clinic events, it is a reliable method of delivering a message quickly and directly, to a large number of patients, if need be.

Maintain Patient Confidentiality
While a growing number of clinics are turning to email to communicate more conveniently, patient confidentiality is still an issue that requires attention. Certain precautions should be put in play to preserve patient confidentiality and any other security issues that could arise from communicating via email. To use email safely and most effectively, it is advised that you:

– Consult with your IT provider about implementing proper safeguards to ensure your clinic’s email system is secure.
– Ensure a process that addresses enquiries during times that you are away
– Create an automated response that can indicate to patients that their message has been received. These messages are also helpful for informing patients about when to expect a reply, or to advise them to contact the office directly in the event of an emergency or urgent matter.

There are myriad uses for email correspondence within the medical industry. Now, more than ever, it is important to explore methods of technology that can further bridge the gap between patient and practitioner. Although there are a number of new, exciting ways to develop stronger bonds with your patients, email is just one inexpensive, effective method to forge a greater understanding of patient care and its many complexities.

References
1) Cohn A. The benefits of encouraging patients to email their doctor: a review of individual practice. ADC Education and Practice  2014:99:152-6.