Ever sent an e-mail in the heat of anger that you would give a week’s pay to retrieve, or lost an e-mail that would have proved the office nailed down some Medicare billing advice or checked on a patient referral? To prevent such mishaps, and to protect the practice, consider the following six common sense do’s and don’ts:
Use work computers only for work. For example, if you log on to a private e-mail account from work, images of what you are looking at become a permanent part of that computer’s hard drive. Sending a private e-mail from your practice’s official e-mail address is like writing someone a personal letter on the physician’s stationary. In other words, it’s not a good idea.
Don’t use private e-mail to discuss a situation at work involving a patient or his family in "anonymous" terms. The e-mail discussion might just include enough clues so that a friend or someone else who reads the e-mail could figure out who the patient is, especially in a small community.
Define what kinds of e-mails should be saved and for what length of time. You want to save messages having to do with referrals or some consultation or advice the office or physician received. In addition to saving the files on the hard drive and back-up systems, print and file them.
Encrypt sensitive information. Any email policy should direct staff to encrypt e-mails containing patients’ protected health information or other sensitive facts. Obtain patients’ written authorization before sending e-mails to their homes reminding them about appointments or answering their questions.
Let a little time go by before you respond to e-mails. Otherwise, you might come across as impatient or even angry. Some e-mail servers allow you to unsend messages, but not once they are received. That’s a good feature to have if you send a "hot" e-mail or answer someone’s question too quickly before you really know the right answer. But you never know if the other person is sitting online ready to open the e-mail the minute it pops up in his in-box.
Use the "crimson-faced litmus test" before hitting the "send" button. Before unleashing a message into cyberspace, ask yourself if you would be OK with it being posted on the office bulletin board for everyone to read. Are the grammar and spelling correct? Do you disclose personal information that’s best not shared in a business situation?