Electronic Communication Policy

Electronic communications policy for Hafele Street Practice

Electronic communication has become ubiquitous and indispensable in modern society, and is also used widely in communication in professional settings. Although it may have many advantages in enhancing doctor/patient communication, it is extremely important for all parties to also be aware of the potential pitfalls in using these tools. To this end, we have drawn up a basic electronic communications policy. It is not exhaustive, but should provide the basic guidelines in the use of electronic communications in our practice.

What types of communication are we talking about?

This policy refers to all communication between the therapist/doctor and the patient/client using any form of communication that is not face-to-face, and employs some kind of electronic communication tool. This includes telephone, fax, Whatsapp (and other similar apps), e-mail, SMS and others.

Why is it important?

Doctors/therapists have a duty to protect patient confidentiality, within the limits of the law. If you need to know more about the legal aspects of this, please read the POPI legislation (Protection of Private Information Act). You can access it here: http://www.gov.za/documents/protection-personal-information-act

What are the risks of using electronic communication?

Although we strive to maintain patient confidentiality at all times, you should be aware that electronic communications may not always be private, and privacy with these forms of communication cannot be absolutely guaranteed.

It may be impossible for the receiver to verify the identity of the person sending such a message.

Electronic messages may contain viruses, may be damaged or changed in the process of transmission.

Messages may be misread or misinterpreted, particularly if you use a short-message app like Whatsapp or SMS.

Electronic messages could be intercepted and shared without consent by third parties.

Electronic communication presents a risk of fraud and breach of confidentiality.

If you send/receive e-mail on a work e-mail address, your employer has the right to inspect/review your e-mail.

Electronic communication may be used as evidence in a court of law.

These are some of the risks that we can think of but there may be many others. It is important that you consider these risks before using electronic messaging.

Who will have access to my electronic communication?

This will depend on who you send it to, and what address you use. If you send it to your doctor or therapist’s private email address, it is more likely to be private than when you send it to our practice a-mail addresses such as info@hafelestreet.co.za or reception@hafelestreet.co.za or the e-mail addresses of one of our bookkeepers. Therefore, make very sure that you send it to the correct address. If it is sent to one of the practice e-mail addresses, confidentiality is low. Please consider this carefully.

How are these messages processed?

Most of the doctors/therapists will receive their e-mail or other communications during the day, when most of us are very busy consulting with patients/clients. We therefore have very limited time during the day to look at these messages, if at all. If you send it to the practice addresses (info or reception), they will be forwarded to the appropriate person.

Doctors/therapists respect the time they spend with patients/clients, so electronic devices are usually switched off or on silent mode during consultations. If you need to contact the practice urgently, do not use e-mail, SMS or Whatsapp. Rather phone the office on 021-9769549.

Who will reply?

If you want a specific person to reply, please make sure that you send the communication to the correct person. Alternatively, you may ask for a specific person to reply.

When can a reply be expected?

You should allow a few working days for a response to electronic communications. Remember that e-mail may be delayed and may only reach the addressee long after it was sent. Also, most of the doctors/therapists have a designated time in their week when they attend to administrative matters. There may therefore be a significant delay in response. Do not expect a same-day reply.

What should electronic communication be used for?

There is a wide range of potential uses, however it is generally used for administrative matters, and BRIEF questions about treatment matters. It is ideally suited for non-urgent matters.

What should it not be used for?

Electronic communication should NOT be used for urgent messages, crises or for sensitive matters that you do not want a record of to be kept in your file or on the server.

It should also not be used for prescriptions, for all the issues around privacy that were mentioned earlier, but also because pharmacies do not accept e-mail scripts, unless they are sent to the pharmacy directly. Even then, scripts for highly scheduled medications need to be collected at the practice, as your pharmacist will insist on the original.

Please do NOT use Whatsapp to communicate with your therapist/doctor. We do not look at these during the day, and it is used only for private matters.

We make appointments only per telephone – please phone our office number 021-9769549 and speak to reception staff.

Electronic communications should not be used for long discussions or complicated questions. Remember that an e-mail cannot take the place of a face-to-face consultation. Generally, if the communication is longer than a few sentences, it is not appropriate to use this mode of communication. It is then better to make an appointment and discuss your issue with the doctor/therapist in person. A doctor/therapist will probably not be able to answer multiple e-mails/messages from the same person on a specific day.

Electronic communications can and should never take the place of a face-to-face consultation.

Reminders by SMS

Some of our doctors send SMS’s to patients to remind them of appointments. On our intake document, there is a question about SMS reminders. If you agree to it, we will send you an SMS to remind you of your next appointment. Some patients/clients may not want this, and if you consider it intrusive or a problem in terms of privacy or confidentiality, please let our staff know. Also, please remember that these reminders are sent as a courtesy, and it remains your responsibility to ensure that you keep your appointments. Also, please note that at this time, none of the psychologists send SMS reminders.