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Researchers Call for Updates to Guidelines for Emailing Patients

Researchers from Indiana University have conducted a study of current guidelines on emailing patients and have identified major weaknesses, a lack of up-to-date best practices, and outdated security practices that are no longer required due to changes in technology. Additionally, they confirmed there is a lack of information on new methods of communication such as secure texting and a lack of evidence showing the effectiveness of proposed practices for emailing and texting patients.

There was little to no evidence on how using email or text messages to communicate with patients could improve patient outcomes and a lack of information on how new communication tools could be used effectively by practitioners.

The researchers studied 11 sets of guidelines on electronically communicating with patients and found weaknesses across the board. The pace of change of technology is not reflected in the available guidelines, with many of the recommendations no longer required. The researchers were unsure if any of the valid recommendations in the guidelines are actually being followed.

The researchers said providers would benefit from having up-to-date guidance on effective messaging practices in the context of healthcare teams and detailed information on how messaging platforms could be incorporated into workflows. Current guidelines have a focus on technical issues such as platform specifications, when providers would benefit more from guidelines focused on the relational challenges of electronic communication. Practitioners are trained on effective face-to-face communication. The researchers suggest similar training should be provided on electronic communication.

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Updates to the guidelines are long overdue, with several guidelines dating back more than a decade. However, before new guidelines can be developed, further research is required to evaluate and identify best practices. The researchers also call for “A framework to evaluate quality of communication, and assess the relationship between electronic communication and quality of care.”

The study – A critical appraisal of guidelines for electronic communication between patients and clinicians: the need to modernize current recommendations – was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (JAMIA).

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.