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Be Smart About Electronic Communications


Radiologists can benefit from sharing information electronically, but here are a few reminders about keeping it professional.

More and more, I hear about colleagues communicating via electronic media about patients. Almost daily, I am asked to communicate with referring physicians about their patients outside the normal report. That trend was confirmed when I read an article about PACS systems that allow SMS or other rapid digital communication beyond the typical PACS or RIS log in.

Certainly such efficiencies of communication are the wave of the future, even present. They will allow physicians to seamlessly share critical results and will reduce time spent tracking down other physicians or results. This means that tools for sharing information are very powerful for radiologists. In addition, as a profession predicated on a visual format, radiology lends itself to electronic media and sharing of information.

Beyond direct patient care, many professional friends share cases and to ask for opinions. But that kind of communication has its limitation and dangers. While recent articles talk about leveraging new tools for this, other publications have warned of abuses of the technology, either through inadvertent or inappropriate interactions.

Amongst the tools, social networking is one of the most powerful. Several sites intended just for physicians now exist and can be good places to share experiences. But any information shared there must be completely anonymous. Remember too, that you are still legally responsible for the content you post.

Beyond that, realize that there is not a way to verify that the persons using this are health professionals so be careful in trusting information you get there. That works both ways as what you share can be disseminated to and attributed to you. And lastly, realize anything you say can be used against you. Patients can see what you post or share too, so always be professional. That goes for all interactions in the electronic space.

A few more comments:

Try not to mix personal and professional anything - blogs, social networking, cell phone, if at all possible. For example, if you have professional Facebook account for the office, keep the content for patients only. If patients try to contact you this way, refer them to your office and have them call or come in for advice. Avoid the temptation to have any personal contact with any patients. Keep it professional. Once you start a doctor-patient relationship in the office or even online, the relationship is that forever, so be careful.

Remember email is not secure unless accessed under a secure network, so sharing patient information is dangerous. That image of the interesting case that you sent out for your colleagues to give you an opinion has patient data on it. And the photo of your procedure from yesterday that you posted shows the patient’s face. That sort of problem is easy to miss - and may cost you.

Texting may be even more problematic. You can’t validate who picks up the phone that the surgeon lays down in the OR, and SMS is not a secure medium. So if you don’t have a secure cell network, make sure you share this way very carefully. At a minimum verify that the receiver wants information this way and that it is private before you send it. And never add any editorial information.

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