Healthcare Technology Featured Article

July 26, 2012

How Communications Technology Can Improve Doctor/Patient Relationships

Let’s face it. These days, most of us are pretty impatient and hate to wait for anything. We get frustrated when we stand in line at the deli while they slice our meat, we tap our watches waiting for the garage to call back about our new brake pads, and we certainly don’t want to wait to hear that our lost luggage has been found. But all of these annoyances pale in comparison to the life-or-death communications that we sometimes need to hear from our physicians. If you know anyone who has ever fretted by the phone, waiting to hear if the results of her biopsy were ready, then you are aware at how frustrating the lack of communication between doctors and patients can be. Luckily, there are technologies that can make this communication smoother and easier.

E-mail: It seems pretty simple, right? I mean, everybody seems to use e-mail, from the middle school kid who wants to pester his teacher for assignments, to the CEO of your company who wants to disseminate good news about the quarterly earnings. But how can doctors use e-mail to make communication easier? Doctors can use e-mail to take care of a lot of mundane communication, from appointment and medication reminders, to attachments containing guidelines or helpful links, to sending out billing and administrative forms. While privacy rules strictly govern the type of information that can be sent via e-mail, the technology can still be used as an intermediate form of communication. Many patients carry e-mail-enabled smartphones, so doctors can shoot them messages at any time of day if they have time to chat or want the patient to come in for a visit to talk about test results, for example.

Telemedicine: Sometimes it is hard to make it to the doctor’s office, and sometimes a full-blown appointment is unnecessary, as doctors may only need to convey a small bit of information to patients. In these cases, telemedicine is becoming more and more popular. Doctors can use video conferencing technology to get in touch with patients and conduct business over a secure video chat. They can take patient questions, give information or demonstrations, all while being able to see and hear patients. This type of interaction is not always best, but many doctors feel the face-to-face conversations are better than mere phone calls, and in some cases, telemedicine can saved time for doctors while saving money for patients. Ultimately, these interactions are governed by privacy regulations, of course, but can be beneficial to both parties when used properly.

Tablets: Increasingly, our world is full of data and heavily slanted toward audio-visual interactions. With the increase in speed, power and efficiency of tablet devices, doctors are finding them more and more useful for patient interactions. Physicians can access and update electronic health records on these devices, they can show audio, video and photographic information to customers on hand, and they can carry the devices with them, as to have access to all the information they need at their fingertips. They can call a patient and have records, images and charts in front of them, making calls – and in-office visits – more efficient for them and meaningful for patients.

Unified Communications: Long gone are the days of pocket pagers. Now, by connecting video conferencing, e-mail, chat, messaging, voice calling and tablet capabilities, doctors can be sure to be in touch at all times (except when they step out to live their own personal lives, I suppose). With the proper unified communications and mobility solutions, they can be in touch with colleagues, patients, hospitals and more, allowing them to receive and disseminate information quickly and efficiently. Again, all of this would be regulated by privacy laws, and doctors may feel overwhelmed at first by this “always on, always accessible” persona, but in the end, it will make communication more efficient and help patients have the peace of mind they need. After all, if someone is waiting to hear if she has cancer, she doesn’t want to have to call over and over to get the information. Connectivity will save her the burden of not knowing, and make things easier on the doctor and her staff as well. And, in the end, when it’s not a deli order or a car part but a matter of life and death, speed is of the utmost importance, whether the news is good, bad or otherwise.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey

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