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E-Mailing Patients Is Helpful, But Can Have Pitfalls

Physicians should have policies in place to address issues, such as confidentiality

THURSDAY, March 23 (HealthDay News) -- Although e-mail can be a useful way to communicate with patients, physicians should have policies to counteract the potential pitfalls of online communication and resources, according to a review article in the March issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

J. Sybil Biermann, M.D., from University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, and colleagues reviewed the literature on physician-patient electronic communication.

The researchers note that many patients with musculoskeletal conditions will have researched their condition online before visiting a physician. This online information may be a useful addition to the patient-physician relationship, they say, and the office visit can be used to refine the information and answer questions. However, physicians should be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of Internet resources and electronic communication, according to the study. Physicians should have specific policies on patient privacy and conveying sensitive information online, and they should review the content of health Web sites before referring patients to the sites.

"Some patient concerns may be easily satisfied and communication enhanced through the use of e-mail," Biermann and colleagues write. "Physicians planning to incorporate electronic communication with their patients must be prepared to manage unsolicited e-mail, maintain patient confidentiality and adopt practices that maximize the use of online resources to enhance patient education."

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