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Physician Guidelines for Online Communication with Patients

These guidelines are primarily concerned with email and physician websites (the two most common vehicles of online communications). The starting point norms and best practices are taken from those developed through the use of paper documents, mail, telephone, and facsimile in the setting of physicians’ offices.

Physicians should establish a protocol that describes how such communications will be used in their office. The protocol should address all of the following, with each point discussed and elaborated on in the document:

  1. Purposes for which the office uses online communications.
  2. Online (distant) patient-physician relationship.
  3. Response to patient enquiries – managing expectations.
  4. Conditions for patient use of online communications.
  5. Triage of communications.
  6. Access to patient enquiries.
  7. Retention, form, and organization of communications.
  8. Type and quality of information provided to patients.
  9. Privacy, confidentiality, and security.
  10. Specific jurisdictional provisions and requirements.
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