Our world is filled with constant communication – tweets, email, text, instant messaging, Facebook and more. It can be hard to keep track of all the options! When you look at the essence of what each of those do, they are a way for us to stay connected – with friends, family, co-workers, the world, etc… These tools are here to stay! The big question is how this will affect the healthcare industry. Will these options to connect improve doctor patient communication and promote better outcomes?

Healthcare consumers are ready to connect with their physicians and hospitals differently. And I think those same physicians and hospitals are ready to try new communication tools as well. We’re already seeing this in the form of live updates from the operating room, appointment reminders and online appointment scheduling. Still, it’s not as simple as turning on text messaging or email between doctor and patient or creating a Facebook page. There are a few items that any healthcare provider should think through before jumping in with both feet.

Here’s my list of seven things providers should consider:

  1. Have a goal. Know why you’re pursuing this. There are lots of shiny new tools in the communications toolbox, but which ones serve your patients best?
  1. Ensure there is privacy and security around any personal messages.  Your communication tools should be HIPAA compliant when it comes to personal health information.
  1. Be ready to respond in a timely manner. Set expectations early. Let your patients know how long it will usually take to receive a response. Hint: don’t take too long!
  1. Know what’s appropriate to send electronically and educate your patients. For example, make sure your patients know that if they’re experiencing chest pains (or any other emergency situation) they should call 911 instead of sending a text to your office. At the same time, you should have a backup plan for how to handle receiving this type of message from your patient.
  1. Be careful not to isolate those who aren’t as comfortable with technology. Not every patient will be interested in talking with you through text, email, etc… So be sure you don’t force these newer channels on them.
  1. Give access to the entire caregiver team. For example, the nurse who works in the doctor’s office and the family member who may be helping care for their parent (i.e. the patient) are just two additional members of a potentially large team caring for someone in a critical or chronic situation.
  1. Ensure that the trust, intimacy and comfort that comes from the in person relationship between a doctor and patient is not lost behind the technical tools. These tools should make the delivery of healthcare better, not replace that personal human touch and connection.

What do you think? What’s missing from my list? Are you interested in being able to text or email with your patients? What about being friends on Facebook or having them follow you on Twitter? If you’re a patient, are you interested in connecting with your doctor through these tools? I’d love to hear your thoughts.