Texting has become a popular form of communication in the 21st century. This makes sense since it provides a convenient way to make direct contact with others. However, dentists and other medical professionals should be aware of the potential pitfalls of text-based conversations.

Without this type of awareness, it’s possible for providers to miscommunicate with their patients. In turn, miscommunication can have a major negative impact on both patients and healthcare practices.

Fortunately, there are effective ways to limit the potential for communication misfires when texting with patients. Key considerations to bear in mind include important issues of documentation and patient education. They also include an understanding of when text-based conversations may not be recommended in the first place.

Making Official Documentation of Text-Based Conversations

Unless purposefully erased, texts remain stored on the cellphones of all parties involved in a conversation. At any time, it’s possible to look back and refer to what’s been said. With this kind of easy reference available, it might seem unnecessary to document a text-based conversation in any other manner.

In reality, failure to document a texted conversation with a patient can lead to serious problems. Say, for example, a patient relays important medical information during a text. If a healthcare provider doesn’t respond to that text, the patient may assume the information was registered. (That could be especially true if the conversation continues.) However, the provider may not, in fact, have taken note of that text.

It’s clear that such a situation could have dire outcomes for everyone involved. To begin with, it could lead a medical professional to make inappropriate recommendations to a patient. In turn, such recommendations could lead to severe or even life-threatening consequences for that patient’s health.

Text-related miscommunications can also have serious repercussions from a legal standpoint. In the aftermath of such a mix-up, patients may feel justified in taking action against their providers. Why? They may (reasonably) believe that they shared all the essential information in their texts. And if something goes wrong, who else would be responsible except the healthcare professional involved in the conversation?

To avoid these types of harmful scenarios, providers who text with their patients should consider documenting all such conversations. Adequate documentation doesn’t just mean writing the conversations down somewhere. It means adding them to the official records of each patient.

Instructing Patients on When and How to Text

Texting is a reflexive habit for millions of people across the country. Among other things, this means that patients texting their healthcare providers may make certain assumptions. Such assumptions include the type of information suitable for text communication. They also include the appropriate times for making contact.

Although familiar in everyday life, these assumptions may not work for patient-provider conversations. For instance, patients may text information that could be saved for a later office visit. Conversely, they may fail to text vital information that should receive prompt attention. In addition, patients may attempt to contact their healthcare providers at times when those providers don’t have their phones on.

To reduce the risks for serious miscommunication, all practices should consider giving their patients clear texting instructions. With such instructions in place, dentists and other providers can refer to a single standard for all patients. Effective guidance should cover both emergency and non-emergency situations.

Determining When Text-Based Communication Is Not Appropriate

Like their patients, many healthcare providers text in their personal lives on a daily basis. When communicating with friends or loved ones, they select which information to share. Some conversations may be suitable for a general, casual discussion. However, others may touch upon sensitive or complicated subjects. Discretion is vital for telling the difference between the two.

The same discretion should be firmly in mind when communicating with patients via text. Some topics are suitable for the disembodied back-and-forth of a texted conversation. However, others may not be. Instead, they require the more personal, interactive environment of a face-to-face conversation. For example, some medical issues may be too complex to discuss fully by text. In addition, some conversations may trigger avoidable patient anxiety if not conducted in person.

To navigate this minefield effectively, it helps to have some pre-existing guidelines for when not to text. The nature of these guidelines may vary from practice to practice. Nevertheless, they should always aim to protect the patient and foster effective information sharing.

These are just some of the factors to consider when establishing successful guidelines for text-based, patient-provider communications. Need help answering questions regarding this vital subject? Just consult the experts at HMBD Insurance Services.

HMBD’s dedicated staff can help you establish standards that support the health of each and every patient. At the same time, those standards will help your practice steer clear of any legal jeopardy. With these kinds of guidelines in place, you and your patients can focus on the many benefits of text-based conversations.