Group to Issue Guidelines to Promote Secure E-Mail Communication Between Doctors, Patients
A consortium of malpractice insurers and Medem, a for-profit venture created by 45 medical societies, announced last week that they will issue guidelines to help physicians manage the risks and liabilities of communicating with patients via e-mail, the Wall Street Journal reports. The group will also issue guidelines for physicians who plan to charge fees for online consultations. Part of the impetus for the guidelines, according to the Wall Street Journal, is a "groundswell" of patient demand for online communication with physicians. According to a recent Harris Interactive Poll, only 13% of physicians communicate with patients by e-mail, but some physicians say they would be more likely to do so if they could charge for the service, guarantee patient privacy and avoid new malpractice risks. The Journal reports that the "eRisk" guidelines will encourage physicians to use secure, password-protected messaging systems rather than standard e-mail. According to Medem, which markets such messaging systems to physicians, secure messaging is "a common sense approach" to managing privacy concerns. Some physicians, however, remain skeptical about secure messaging. Dr. Daniel Sands, an internist at Boston's CareGroup and a professor of medicine at Harvard University, expressed concern that discouraging physicians from using regular e-mail to communicate with patients could have a "chilling effect" on physician-patient online communication. According to Sands, the risks of sending unsecured e-mails "may be worth it" if it improves patients' access to physicians. Sands also pointed out that companies like Medem have a financial stake in encouraging the use of secure messaging systems (Landro, Wall Street Journal, 1/25).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.