Direct communication with patients remains to be an obstacle in the quest of achieving effective patient-physician relationship. Nevertheless, e-communication with clients by use of websites, telephone, and e-mail has forced physicians to re-engineer their strategies of caring for patients. Access of online wellness and health information, home-based monitoring systems, online medical services, and web-based support teams have enabled patients to embrace added responsibilities for their health care. This study diagnoses how the Internet and other forms of electronic communication may be used as an external delivery source in communicating patient-specific information. This study also elucidates how distance delivery affects the delivery of health care coupled with the use of e-mails, telemedicine, and the electronic transfer of records in service delivery (Latifi, 2008).
The use of e-mail, telemedicine, and the electronic transfer of records
For many years, physicians have used telephone services to pass messages to patients. In administrative terms, they have used the telephone when scheduling appointments, reminding patients about appointments, relaying lab results and handling requests to renew prescriptions. Additionally, healthcare providers make a host of administrative phone calls pharmacies, hospitals and insurance companies (Fleisher & Dechene, 2010).
Physicians can also use the telephone as a clinical tool. When dealing with established clients such as patients with chronic diseases, the use of the telephone can save both patient's money and time. This reduces the heavy office schedules. Care providers can engage the telephone to offer clinical advice, monitor the impact of treatment, and discuss patient results. Determining the level at which clinical services can be offered via the telephone in the absence of tactile and visual information that patients provide is cumbersome. For physicians to make such decisions, they must carefully study the legal and clinical factors underlying the competence and scope of the basic guidelines. In any decision the physicians may make regarding the issue, they must always document the health record of the patient (Latifi, Poropatich & Hadeed, 2011).
With the increase in volume and role of telephone calls, wide ranges of practices have engaged innovative technologies to enhance convenience and efficiency of patients, physicians, and office employees. In some practices, automated telephone systems have been adopted providing patients with a set of options that direct patients to the appropriate staff member (Spekowius & Wendler, 2007). In addition, automated outgoing calls have been incorporated to remind patients about next appointments or to notify them of lad results. Besides, many physicians currently use wireless phones to maintain contact with staff members and patients while out of office. This instantaneous communication mode is beneficial to patients but requires physicians to put in extra effort in performing follow-ups and documenting all the information. Lack of established boundaries on the side of physicians may expose them to potential overuse by in calling patients because there would be no parameters for families and patients.
While undertaking their duties, telephones cannot be used especially during urgent times and sensitive matters: it has its limitations and is ineffective when critical information is to be passed. Communicating with patients about sensitive lab results or potential problems over the telephone can be disruptive and time consuming to the workload of patients daily. As much as patients become happy when physicians make a call, this may not be the best way forward for the operation of the practice. Conversations over the telephone tend to be synchronous implying that the communicators must do so simultaneously (Demiris, 2008).
When this is not achieved, telephone users tend to leave messages for each other. This often leads to enormous telephone tags. Although synchronous communication is the best for urgent issues and time sensitive matters, it is unnecessary in the end. Conversations over the telephone need appropriate documentation in the medical records of patients. This is additional work for the physician. However, physicians have a tendency of skipping this step in their duties resulting in malpractices to patients. Additionally, real time phone calls can be pressured by time. During office visits, patients have demonstrated to remember only half of what physicians told them over the phone. This leads to reduced quality care and frustrations. Evidently, physicians are required to reduce the number of calls they make to patients and make an effort of documenting their telephone conversation in the health records of patients. The only solution to these problems would be the Internet (Lecca, Valentine & Lyons, 2010).
Strong demand for online patient care
As more patients and physicians become increasingly aware of communicating through electronic methods, the willingness and desire to apply it to the ambulatory care provision has drawn significant momentum. Some surveys indicate that medical communications through online tools with patients has gained some popularity. For instance, eighty-four percent of U.S. citizens have to online infrastructures to obtain medical information. Over ninety percent of American adults have gone online due to a growing interest in communicating with physicians online. Some of the advantages include enhanced efficiency in service delivery, shortened time when serving patients, and reduced visits (Fleisher & Dechene, 2010).
Benefits of electronic healthcare
Electronic delivery of non-urgent medical care has various benefits for both physicians and patients. These are benefits such as:
Increased productivity, efficiency and decreased operating expenses
Web-based patient communication increases productivity and efficiency of the practice through minimal telephone calls, reduced administrative costs, and increased the attraction of additional clients. Exchange of emails tends to be less disruptive compared to phone calls; the physician performs them at their own convenience and self-documenting. In addition, most communications previously addressed through face-to-face or telephones are now being achieved through Internet communications. This involves the prescription of medications, patient scheduling, patient monitoring, and quick medical questions from clients with chronic illness. Internet-based technology is now offering disease management tools like data transmission from electronic home-based monitoring systems. This is cheap and easily accessible compared to traditional information technology and paper-based systems (Spekowius & Wendler, 2007).
Reduced unnecessary visits at the office
Surveys have shown that thirty percent out of the 900 million annual office visits can be eliminated through patient-physician online communication. Online care provision enables physicians to monitor clients and provide them with follow-up-services without the need for office visits. This helps physicians to spend quality time with much sicker patients and help clients to avoid wasting time through visiting the physician's office.
Office visits will only be made when necessary
Patients can save time when they negotiate and obtain vital clinical information before making an office visit. This makes the direct patient-physician encounter productive. In addition, it can translate into shortened waiting times, less cluttered waiting rooms and more satisfied patients. Through online communications, it can be more convenient for patients to reach physicians than telephone appointments and messages. This contributes to the satisfaction of patients (Spekowius & Wendler, 2007).
Patient-physician communication through online networks enables efficient communication between the two due to its asynchronous nature. Physicians can spend quality time creating responses to questions raised by patients and communicate at the most convenient time for them. Similarly, patients are able to read the messages as many times as they want at their own convenience. They can even share this information with their families and friends. This leads to increased satisfaction and information retention (Ginzberg & Minogiannis, 2007).
E-communication makes it possible to provide supplementary communication. Physicians are likely to include reliable links to web-based information regarding various healthcare topics. Moreover, they can attach more documents that explain the different conditions in a detailed perspective. Some health care systems have incorporated customized responses to common questions raised by patients. This gives patients the opportunity to learn about different health conditions. However, it requires the physician to invest significant time in providing this information. Physicians are readily available to patients via online thereby making communication convenient. This makes patients to develop a special connection with physicians, hence increased patient retention, and satisfaction (Saranummi, 2009).
Challenges of electronic healthcare
Despite the increasing demand from patients for electronic care provision and a high degree of client satisfaction, physicians have limited the application of telephone and email care provision due challenges of re-imbursement. This is unlike the face-to-face communication in the provision of health care. Nevertheless, the industry claims that telephone care is part of the management and evaluation of services covered by office visits. Therefore, this offers separate reimbursement. Various private care providers have designed similar plans. Nevertheless, some plans have introduced physicians' payments for e-services and visits. Unlike, telephone calls most plans have not incorporated payment for physicians in light of their e-services. It remains optimistic that Medicare and insurance plans will eventually acknowledge the benefits of electronic patient-physician communication, hence cover the services. Electronic patient-physician communication has been incorporated into the reimbursement plans of health care plans. Service delivery may also be hampered in instances where some patients do not have Internet access. Some patients or clients may also find it hard to execute all functions that will guarantee successful interaction with health care providers (Lecca, Valentine & Lyons, 2010).