The use of online social networks (OSNs) among physicians and physicians-in-training, the extent of patient–doctor interactions within OSNs, and attitudes among these groups toward use of OSNs is not well described.
To quantify the use of OSNs, patient interactions within OSNs, and attitudes toward OSNs among medical students (MS), resident physicians (RP), and practicing physicians (PP) in the United States.
A random, stratified mail survey was sent to 1004 MS, 1004 RP, and 1004 PP between February and May 2010.
Percentage of respondents reporting OSN use, the nature and frequency of use; percentage of respondents reporting friend requests by patients or patients’ family members, frequency of these requests, and whether or not they were accepted; attitudes toward physician use of OSNs and online patient interactions.
The overall response rate was 16.0% (19.8% MS, 14.3% RP, 14.1% PP). 93.5% of MS, 79.4% of RP, and 41.6% of PP reported usage of OSNs. PP were more likely to report having visited the profile of a patient or patient’s family member (MS 2.3%, RP 3.9%, PP 15.5%), and were more likely to have received friend requests from patients or their family members (MS 1.2%, RP 7.8%, PP 34.5%). A majority did not think it ethically acceptable to interact with patients within OSNs for either social (68.3%) or patient-care (68.0%) reasons. Almost half of respondents (48.7%) were pessimistic about the potential for OSNs to improve patient–doctor communication, and a majority (79%) expressed concerns about maintaining patient confidentiality.
Personal OSN use among physicians and physicians-in-training mirrors that of the general population. Patient–doctor interactions take place within OSNs, and are more typically initiated by patients than by physicians or physicians-in-training. A majority of respondents view these online interactions as ethically problematic.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s11606-011-1761-2) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doctor–patient relations; computer communication networks; professionalism; Internet; bioethics
The goal of this research is to determine if different gender-preferred social styles can be observed within the user interactions at an online cancer community. To achieve this goal, we identify and measure variables that pertain to each gender-specific social style.
Methods and Findings
We perform social network and statistical analysis on the communication flow of 8,388 members at six different cancer forums over eight years. Kruskal-Wallis tests were conducted to measure the difference between the number of intimate (and highly intimate) dyads, relationship length, and number of communications. We determine that two patients are more likely to form an intimate bond on a gender-specific cancer forum (ovarian P = <0.0001, breast P = 0.0089, prostate P = 0.0021). Two female patients are more likely to form a highly intimate bond on a female-specific cancer forum (Ovarian P<0.0001, Breast P<0.01). Typically a male patient communicates with more members than a female patient (Ovarian forum P = 0.0406, Breast forum P = 0.0013). A relationship between two patients is longer on the gender-specific cancer forums than a connection between two members not identified as patients (ovarian forum P = 0.00406, breast forum P = 0.00013, prostate forum P = .0.0003).
The high level of interconnectedness among the prostate patients supports the hypothesis that men prefer to socialize in large, interconnected, less-intimate groups. A female patient is more likely to form a highly intimate connection with another female patient; this finding is consistent with the hypothesis that woman prefer fewer, more intimate connections. The relationships of same-gender cancer patients last longer than other relationships; this finding demonstrates homophily within these online communities. Our findings regarding online communication preferences are in agreement with research findings from person-to-person communication preference studies. These findings should be considered when designing online communities as well as designing and evaluating psychosocial and educational interventions for cancer patients.
ArztPartner strives to create a network of the providers and receivers of medical care in Germany. This network will use the innovative technologies of cyberspace to increase the quality and speed of interaction between all participants of the healthcare system. Important components of this network will be virtual communities for patients, online discussion forums for physicians and possibilities of online interaction between the two groups. In the long run, this platform will be a basis for providing medical care on-line. The three-step-strategy:
Establishing a sophisticated physician search system for patients: Building on the current search routine of ArztPartner (www.arztsucher.de), ArztPartner will significantly upgrade its search options with more intuitive user-interfaces.
Bringing the ArztPartner physician- and clinics network on-line and upgrading the general physician database: Currently ArztPartner is putting the key information concerning the physicians and clinics in its quality survey network in the internet. At the same time we are providing all physicians and clinics in Germany with the opportunity to present their profile in our online network.
Building virtual communities for specific diagnoses, creating online discussion spaces for physicians and encouraging interactions between the two groups: ArztPartner will establish virtual communities for the most common diseases, thus helping consumers to get convenient access to specific information sources and exchange information with fellow patients.
At the same time, we will provide the medical providers in our network with possibilities to exchange information with each other and to access relevant content. In the long run, we hope to connect consumers, physicians and clinics, thus creating a platform for effective medical information exchange through the whole process of medical care. The presentation will show the current status of these efforts as well as the specific questions associated with this strategy.
Internet platform; Networks; Quality; Search Engines; Healthcare Management
Location of practice, such as working in a rural or urban clinic, may influence how physicians communicate with their patients. This exploratory pilot study examines the communication styles used during doctor-patient interactions in urban and rural family practice settings in Western Canada.
We analyzed observation and interview data from four physicians practicing in these different locations. Using a grounded theory approach, communications were categorized as either instrumental or socioemotional. Instrumental communication refers to “cure-oriented interactions” and tends to be more task-oriented focusing on the patient’s health concerns and reason for the appointment. In contrast, socioemotional communication refers to more “care-oriented interactions” that may make the patient feel comfortable, relieve patient anxiety and build a trusting relationship.
The physicians in small, rural towns appear to know their patients and their families on a more personal level and outside of their office, and engage in more socioemotional communications compared to those practicing in suburban clinics in a large urban centre. Knowing patients outside the clinic seems to change the nature of the doctor-patient interaction, and, in turn, the doctor-patient relationship itself. Interactions between urban doctors and their patients had a mixture of instrumental and socioemotional communications, while interactions between rural doctors and their patients tended to be highly interpersonal, often involving considerable socioemotional communication and relationship-building.
Despite the different ways that doctors and patients communicate with each other in the two settings, rural and urban doctors spend approximately the same amount of time with their patients. Thus, greater use of socioemotional communication by rural doctors, which may ease patient anxiety and increase patient trust, did not appear to add extra time to the patient visit. Research suggests that socioemotional communication may ultimately lead to better patient outcomes, which implies that health differences between rural and urban settings could be linked to differences in doctor-patient communication styles.
Physicians; Family practice; Rural clinics; Urban clinics; Patient-physician communication; Patient-physician interaction
Expressing emotion in online support communities is an important aspect of enabling e-patients to connect with each other and expand their social resources. Indirectly it increases the amount of support for coping with health issues. Exploring the supportive interaction patterns in online health social networking would help us better understand how technology features impacts user behavior in this context.
To build on previous research that identified different types of social support in online support communities by delving into patterns of supportive behavior across multiple computer-mediated communication formats. Each format combines different architectural elements, affecting the resulting social spaces. Our research question compared communication across different formats of text-based computer-mediated communication provided on the MedHelp.org health social networking environment.
We identified messages with nurturant support (emotional, esteem, and network) across three different computer-mediated communication formats (forums, journals, and notes) of an online support community for alcoholism using content analysis. Our sample consisted of 493 forum messages, 423 journal messages, and 1180 notes.
Nurturant support types occurred frequently among messages offering support (forum comments: 276/412 messages, 67.0%; journal posts: 65/88 messages, 74%; journal comments: 275/335 messages, 82.1%; and notes: 1002/1180 messages, 84.92%), but less often among messages requesting support. Of all the nurturing supports, emotional (ie, encouragement) appeared most frequently, with network and esteem support appearing in patterns of varying combinations. Members of the Alcoholism Community appeared to adapt some traditional face-to-face forms of support to their needs in becoming sober, such as provision of encouragement, understanding, and empathy to one another.
The computer-mediated communication format may have the greatest influence on the supportive interactions because of characteristics such as audience reach and access. Other factors include perception of community versus personal space or purpose of communication. These results lead to a need for further research.
Social support; social media; alcoholism
An increasing fraction of today's social interactions occur using online social media as communication channels. Recent worldwide events, such as social movements in Spain or revolts in the Middle East, highlight their capacity to boost people's coordination. Online networks display in general a rich internal structure where users can choose among different types and intensity of interactions. Despite this, there are still open questions regarding the social value of online interactions. For example, the existence of users with millions of online friends sheds doubts on the relevance of these relations. In this work, we focus on Twitter, one of the most popular online social networks, and find that the network formed by the basic type of connections is organized in groups. The activity of the users conforms to the landscape determined by such groups. Furthermore, Twitter's distinction between different types of interactions allows us to establish a parallelism between online and offline social networks: personal interactions are more likely to occur on internal links to the groups (the weakness of strong ties); events transmitting new information go preferentially through links connecting different groups (the strength of weak ties) or even more through links connecting to users belonging to several groups that act as brokers (the strength of intermediary ties).
In recent years, the importance of social differences in the physician-patient relationship has frequently been the subject of research. A 2002 review synthesised the evidence on this topic. Considering the increasing importance of social inequalities in health care, an actualization of this review seemed appropriate.
A systematic search of literature published between 1965 and 2011 on the social gradient in doctor-patient communication. In this review social class was determined by patient's income, education or occupation.
Twenty original research papers and meta-analyses were included. Social differences in doctor-patient communication were described according to the following classification: verbal behaviour including instrumental and affective behaviour, non-verbal behaviour and patient-centred behaviour.
This review indicates that the literature on the social gradient in doctor-patient communication that was published in the last decade, addresses new issues and themes. Firstly, most of the found studies emphasize the importance of the reciprocity of communication.
Secondly, there seems to be a growing interest in patient's perception of doctor-patient communication.
By increasing the doctors' awareness of the communicative differences and by empowering patients to express concerns and preferences, a more effective communication could be established.
Communication; Physician-patient relations; Social class
Although graft and patient survival rates for living kidney donation are improved, some healthcare providers question whether volunteer donors and their informal caregivers are fully informed of the donation process and the risks involved. Donors and their family caregivers have reported that they receive limited information about the predonation and donor recovery process. Offering web-based information and social support is one way to address this gap.
Living kidney donor candidates and their family caregivers participating in the Living Donor Information Network for Caregiving (LINC) have access to a variety of online informational resources and a social support discussion forum throughout their living kidney donation experience. Strategies in the development and implementation of an online information and social-support resource are presented.
Use of the LINC website for information and support may assist health care providers in identifying potential barriers in the current donation process and provide direction for enhancing knowledge and confidence among donors and family caregivers.
An important feature of patient-centered care is physician understanding of their patients’ health beliefs and values.
Determine physicians’ awareness of patients’ health beliefs as well as communication, relationship, and demographic factors associated with better physician understanding of patients’ illness perspectives.
Cross-sectional, observational study.
A convenience sample of 207 patients and 29 primary care physicians from 10 outpatient clinics.
APPROACH AND MEASURES
After their consultation, patients and physicians independently completed the CONNECT instrument, a measure that assesses beliefs about the degree to which the patient’s condition has a biological cause, is the patient’s fault, is one the patient can control, has meaning for the patient, can be treated with natural remedies, and patient preferences for a partnership with the physician. Physicians completed the measure again on how they thought the patient responded. Active patient participation (frequency of questions, concerns, acts of assertiveness) was coded from audio-recordings of the consultations. Physicians’ answers for how they thought the patient responded to the health belief measure were compared to their patients’ actual responses. Degree of physician understanding of patients’ health beliefs was computed as the absolute difference between patients’ health beliefs and physicians’ perception of patients’ health beliefs.
Physicians’ perceptions of their patients’ health beliefs differed significantly (P < 0.001) from patients’ actual beliefs. Physicians also thought patients’ beliefs were more aligned with their own. Physicians had a better understanding of the degree to which patients believed their health conditions had personal meaning (p = 0.001), would benefit from natural remedies (p = 0.049), were conditions the patient could control (p = 0.001), and wanted a partnership with the doctor (p = 0.014) when patients more often asked questions, expressed concerns, and stated their opinions. Physicians were poorer judges of patients’ beliefs when patients were African-American (desire for partnership) (p = 0.013), Hispanic (meaning) (p = 0.075), or of a different race (sense of control) (p = 0.024).
Physicians were not good judges of patient’s health beliefs, but had a substantially better understanding when patients more actively participated in the consultation. Strategies for increasing physicians’ awareness of patients’ health beliefs include preconsultation assessment of patients’ beliefs, implementing culturally appropriate patient activation programs, and greater use of partnership-building to encourage active patient participation.
physician-patient relationship; racial concordance; patient-centered communication; patient participation; disparities
Increasingly, consumers are accessing the Internet seeking health information. Consumers are also using online doctor review websites to help select their physician. Such websites tally numerical ratings and comments from past patients. To our knowledge, no study has previously analyzed whether doctors with positive online reputations on doctor review websites actually deliver higher quality of care typically associated with better clinical outcomes and better safety records.
For a number of procedures, surgeons who perform more procedures have better clinical outcomes and safety records than those who perform fewer procedures. Our objective was to determine if surgeon volume, as a proxy for clinical outcomes and patient safety, correlates with online reputation.
We investigated the numerical ratings and comments on 9 online review
websites for high- and low-volume surgeons for three procedures: lumbar
surgery, total knee replacement, and bariatric surgery. High-volume surgeons
were randomly selected from the group within the highest quartile of claims
submitted for reimbursement using the procedures’ relevant current
procedural terminology (CPT) codes. Low-volume surgeons were randomly
selected from the lowest quartile of submitted claims for the procedures’
relevant CPT codes. Claims were collated within the Normative Health
Information Database, covering multiple payers for more than 25 million
Numerical ratings were found for the majority of physicians in our sample (547/600, 91.2%) and comments were found for 385/600 (64.2%) of the physicians. We found that high-volume (HV) surgeons could be differentiated from low-volume (LV) surgeons independently by analyzing: (1) the total number of numerical ratings per website (HV: mean = 5.85; LV: mean = 4.87, P<.001); (2) the total number of text comments per website (HV: mean = 2.74; LV: mean = 2.30, P=.05); (3) the proportion of glowing praise/total comments about quality of care (HV: mean = 0.64; LV: mean = 0.51, P=.002); and (4) the proportion of scathing criticism/total comments about quality of care (HV: mean = 0.14; LV: mean = 0.23, P= .005). Even when these features were combined, the effect size, although significant, was still weak. The results revealed that one could accurately identify a physician’s patient volume via discriminant and classification analysis 61.6% of the time. We also found that high-volume surgeons could not be differentiated from low-volume surgeons by analyzing (1) standardized z score numerical ratings (HV: mean = 0.07; LV: mean = 0, P=.27); (2) proportion of glowing praise/total comments about customer service (HV: mean = 0.24; LV: mean = 0.22, P=.52); and (3) proportion of scathing criticism/total comments about customer service (HV: mean = 0.19; LV: mean = 0.21, P=.48).
Online review websites provide a rich source of data that may be able to track quality of care, although the effect size is weak and not consistent for all review website metrics.
Doctor review; rating websites; physician reviews; online reputation; clinical outcomes; selection of physicians; surgical volume; surgeon volume
This study examined associations between characteristics of teenagers’ relationships with their mothers and their later socializing behavior and peer relationship quality online. At age 13, teenagers and their mothers participated in an interaction in which mothers’ and adolescents’ behavior undermining autonomy and relatedness was observed, and indicators of teens’ depressive symptoms and social anxiety were assessed. At age 20, youth self-reported on their online behaviors, youths’ social networking webpages were observationally coded to assess peer relationship quality online, and symptoms of depression and social anxiety were reassessed. Results suggested that problematic mother-teen relationships were predictive of youths’ later preference for online communication and greater likelihood of forming a friendship with someone met online, yet poorer quality in online relationships. Findings are discussed within a developmental framework suggesting the importance of considering youths’ family interactions during early adolescence as predictors of future online socializing behavior and online interactions with peers.
To study how social interactions influence physician adoption of an electronic health records (EHR) system.
A social network survey was used to delineate the structure of social interactions among 40 residents and 15 attending physicians in an ambulatory primary care practice. Social network analysis was then applied to relate the interaction structures to individual physicians' utilization rates of an EHR system.
The social network survey assessed three distinct types of interaction structures: professional network based on consultation on patient care-related matters; friendship network based on personal intimacy; and perceived influence network based on a person's perception of how other people have affected her intention to adopt the EHR system. EHR utilization rates were measured as the proportion of patient visits in which sentinel use events consisting of patient data documentation or retrieval activities were recorded. The usage data were collected over a time period of 14 months from computer-recorded audit trail logs.
Neither the professional nor the perceived influence network is correlated with EHR usage. The structure of the friendship network significantly influenced individual physicians' adoption of the EHR system. Residents who occupied similar social positions in the friendship network shared similar EHR utilization rates (p<0.05). In other words, residents who had personal friends in common tended to develop comparable levels of EHR adoption. This effect is particularly prominent when the mutual personal friends of these ‘socially similar’ residents were attending physicians (p<0.001).
Social influence affecting physician adoption of EHR seems to be predominantly conveyed through interactions with personal friends rather than interactions in professional settings.
The rapidly developing array of online physician-only communities represents a potential extraordinary advance in the availability of educational and informational resources to physicians. These online communities provide physicians with a new range of controls over the information they process, but use of this social media technology carries some risk.
The purpose of this review was to help physicians manage the risks of online professional networking and discuss the potential benefits that may come with such networks. This article explores the risks and benefits of physicians engaging in online professional networking with peers and provides suggestions on risk management.
Through an Internet search and literature review, we scrutinized available case law, federal regulatory code, and guidelines of conduct from professional organizations and consultants. We reviewed the OrthoMind.com site as a case example because it is currently the only online social network exclusively for orthopaedic surgeons.
Existing case law suggests potential liability for orthopaedic surgeons who engage with patients on openly accessible social network platforms. Current society guidelines in both the United States and Britain provide sensible rules that may mitigate such risks. However, the overall lack of a strong body of legal opinions, government regulations as well as practical experience for most surgeons limit the suitability of such platforms. Closed platforms that are restricted to validated orthopaedic surgeons may limit these downside risks and hence allow surgeons to collaborate with one another both as clinicians and practice owners.
Educating surgeons about the pros and cons of participating in these networking platforms is helping them more astutely manage risks and optimize benefits. This evolving online environment of professional interaction is one of few precedents, but the application of risk management strategies that physicians use in daily practice carries over into the online community. This participation should foster ongoing dialogue as new guidelines emerge. This will allow today’s orthopaedic surgeon to feel more comfortable with online professional networks and better understand how to make an informed decision regarding their proper use.
Medicine & Public Health; Conservative Orthopedics; Orthopedics; Sports Medicine; Surgery; Surgical Orthopedics; Medicine/Public Health, general
Social media includes many different forms of technology including online forums, blogs, microblogs (i.e. Twitter), wikipedias, video blogs, social networks and podcasting. The use of social media has grown exponentially and time spent on social media sites now represents one in five minutes spent online. Concomitant with this online growth, there has been an inverse trajectory in direct face-to-face patient-provider moments, which continue to become scarcer across the spectrum of health care. In contrast to standard forms of engagement and education, social media has advantages to include profound reach, immediate availability, an archived presence and broad accessibility. Our opportunity as health care providers to partner with our patients has never been greater, yet all too often we allow risk averse fears to limit our ability to truly leverage our good content effectively to the online community. This risk averse behavior truly limits our capacity to effectively engage our patients where they are -- online.
Social media; online; health care providers; patient-physician
Continuity of patient care is one of the cornerstones of primary care.
To examine publicly available, Internet-based reviews of adult primary care physicians, specifically written by patients who report long-term relationships with their physicians.
This substudy was nested within a larger qualitative content analysis of online physician ratings. We focused on reviews reflecting an established patient-physician relationship, that is, those seeing their physicians for at least 1 year.
Of the 712 Internet reviews of primary care physicians, 93 reviews (13.1%) were from patients that self-identified as having a long-term relationship with their physician, 11 reviews (1.5%) commented on a first-time visit to a physician, and the remainder of reviews (85.4%) did not specify the amount of time with their physician. Analysis revealed six overarching domains: (1) personality traits or descriptors of the physician, (2) technical competence, (3) communication, (4) access to physician, (5) office staff/environment, and (6) coordination of care.
Our analysis shows that patients who have been with their physician for at least 1 year write positive reviews on public websites and focus on physician attributes.
social media; qualitative; primary care
Use of the Internet for health purposes is steadily increasing in Europe, while the eHealth market is still a niche. Online communication between doctor and patient is one aspect of eHealth with potentially great impact on the use of health systems, patient-doctor roles and relations and individuals’ health. Monitoring and understanding practices, trends, and expectations in this area is important, as it may bring invaluable knowledge to all stakeholders, in the Health 2.0 era.
Our two main goals were: (1) to investigate use of the Internet and changes in expectations about future use for particular aspects of communication with a known doctor (obtaining a prescription, scheduling an appointment, or asking a particular health question), and (2) to investigate how important the provision of email and Web services to communicate with the physician is when choosing a new doctor for a first time face-to-face appointment. The data come from the second survey of the eHealth Trends study, which addressed trends and perspectives of health-related Internet use in Europe. This study builds on previous work that established levels of generic use of the Internet for self-help activities, ordering medicine or other health products, interacting with a Web doctor/unknown health professional, and communicating with a family doctor or other known health professional.
A representative sample of citizens from seven European countries was surveyed (n = 7022) in April and May of 2007 through computer-assisted telephone interviews (CATI). Respondents were questioned about their use of the Internet to obtain a prescription, schedule an appointment, or ask a health professional about a particular health question. They were also asked what their expectations were regarding future use of the Internet for health-related matters. In a more pragmatic approach to the subject, they were asked about the perceived importance when choosing a new doctor of the possibility of using email and the Web to communicate with that physician. Logistic regression analysis was used to draw the profiles of users of related eHealth services in Europe among the population in general and in the subgroup of those who use the Internet for health-related matters. Changes from 2005 to 2007 were computed using data from the first eHealth Trends survey (October and November 2005, n = 7934).
In 2007, an estimated 1.8% (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.5 - 2.1) of the population in these countries had used the Internet to request or renew a prescription; 3.2% (95% CI 2.8 - 3.6) had used the Internet to schedule an appointment; and 2.5% (95% CI 2.2 - 2.9) had used the Internet to ask a particular health question. This represents estimated increases of 0.9% (95% CI 0.5 - 1.3), 1.7% (95% CI 1.2 - 2.2), and 1.4% (95% CI 0.9 - 1.8). An estimated 18.0% (95% CI 17.1 - 18.9) of the populations of these countries expected that in the near future they would have consultations with health professionals online, and 25.4% (95% CI 24.4 - 26.3) expected that in the near future they would be able to schedule an appointment online. Among those using the Internet for health-related purposes, on average more than 4 in 10 people considered the provision of these eHealth services to be important when choosing a new doctor.
Use of the Internet to communicate with a known health professional is still rare in Europe. Legal context, health policy issues, and technical conditions prevailing in different countries might be playing a major role in the situation. Interest in associated eHealth services is high among citizens and likely to increase.
Online physician-patient interaction; email communication; online prescription ordering; scheduling appointments online; eHealth services utilization and trends; Internet; Europe; survey; logistic regression analysis
Although physicians’ communication style and perceptions affect outcomes, few studies have examined how these perceptions relate to the way physicians communicate with patients. Moreover, while any number of factors may affect the communication process, few studies have analyzed these effects collectively in order to identify the most powerful influences on physician communication and perceptions. Adopting an ecological approach, this investigation examined: (a) the relationships of physicians’ patient-centered communication (informative, supportive, partnership-building) and affect (positive, contentious) on their perceptions of the patient, and (b) the degree to which communication and perceptions were affected by the physicians’ characteristics, patients’ demographic characteristics, physician-patient concordance, and the patient’s communication. Physicians (N = 29) and patients (N = 207) from 10 outpatient settings in the United States participated in the study. From audio-recordings of these visits, coders rated the physicians’ communication and affect as well as the patients’ participation and affect. Doctors were more patient-centered with patients they perceived as better communicators, more satisfied, and more likely to adhere. Physicians displayed more patient-centered communication and more favorably perceived patients who expressed positive affect, were more involved, and who were less contentious. Physicians were more contentious with black patients, whom they also perceived as less effective communicators and less satisfied. Finally, physicians who reported a patient-centered orientation to the doctor-patient relationship also were more patient-centered in their communication. The results suggest that reciprocity and mutual influence have a strong effect on these interactions in that more positive (or negative) communication from one participant leads to similar responses from the other. Physicians’ encounters with black patients revealed communicative difficulties that may lower quality of care for these patients.
USA; physician-patient communication; physician perceptions; racial inequalities; patient participation
Many health information providers on the Internet and doctors with email accounts are confronted with the phenomenon of receiving unsolicited emails from patients asking for medical advice. Also, a growing number of websites offer "ask-the-doctor" services, where patients can ask questions to health professionals via email or other means of telecommunication. It is unclear whether these types of interactions constitute medical practice, and whether physicians have the ethical obligation to respond to unsolicited patient emails.
To improve the quality of online communication between patients and health professionals (physicians, experts) in the absence of a pre-existing patient-physician relationship or face-to-face communication, by preparing a set of guiding ethical principles applicable to this kind of interaction.
Systematic review of the literature, professional, and ethical codes; and consultation with experts.
Two different types of patient-physician encounters have to be distinguished. "Traditional" clinical encounters or telemedicine applications are called "Type B" interactions here (Bona fide relationship). In comparison, online interactions lack many of the characteristics of bona fide interactions; most notably there is no pre-existing relationship and the information available to the physician is limited if, for example, a physician responds to the email of a patient who he has never seen before. I call these "Type A" consultations (Absence of pre-existing patient-physician relationship). While guidelines for Type B interactions on the Internet exist (Kane, 1998), this is not the case for Type A interactions. The following principles are suggested: Physicians responding to patients' requests on the Internet should act within the limitations of telecommunication services and keep the global nature of the Internet in mind; not every aspect of medicine requires face-to-face communication; requests for help, including unsolicited patient questions, should not be ignored, but dealt with in some appropriate manner; informed consent requires fair and honest labeling; health professionals and information providers must maintain confidentiality; health professionals should define internal procedures and perform quality control measures.
Different media are appropriate at each point on the continuum between dispensing general health information and handling patient problems that would require the practice of medicine to solve. For example, email is a sufficiently capable medium for giving out general health information, while diagnosis and treatment usually requires at least advanced telemedical technology. Patients have to be educated that it is unethical to diagnose and treat over the Internet in the absence of a pre-existing patient-physician relationship, and if the interaction is limited to a single email. More research is needed to establish more evidence regarding situations in which teleadvice is beneficial and efficient.
Internet; Ethics; Quality of Health Care; Referral and Consultation; Remote Consultation; Physician-Patient Relations; Professional-Patient Relations; Medical History Taking; Teleadvice; Electronic Mail; Chat; Newsgroup
Knowledge Translation (KT) plays a vital role in the modern health care community, facilitating the incorporation of new evidence into practice. Web 2.0 tools provide a useful mechanism for establishing an online KT environment in which health practitioners share their practice-related knowledge and experiences with an online community of practice. We have implemented a Web 2.0 based KT environment—an online discussion forum—for pediatric pain practitioners across seven different hospitals in Thailand. The online discussion forum enabled the pediatric pain practitioners to share and translate their experiential knowledge to help improve the management of pediatric pain in hospitals.
The goal of this research is to investigate the knowledge sharing dynamics of a community of practice through an online discussion forum. We evaluated the communication patterns of the community members using statistical and social network analysis methods in order to better understand how the online community engages to share experiential knowledge.
Statistical analyses and visualizations provide a broad overview of the communication patterns within the discussion forum. Social network analysis provides the tools to delve deeper into the social network, identifying the most active members of the community, reporting the overall health of the social network, isolating the potential core members of the social network, and exploring the inter-group relationships that exist across institutions and professions.
The statistical analyses revealed a network dominated by a single institution and a single profession, and found a varied relationship between reading and posting content to the discussion forum. The social network analysis discovered a healthy network with strong communication patterns, while identifying which users are at the center of the community in terms of facilitating communication. The group-level analysis suggests that there is strong interprofessional and interregional communication, but a dearth of non-nurse participants has been identified as a shortcoming.
The results of the analysis suggest that the discussion forum is active and healthy, and that, though few, the interprofessional and interinstitutional ties are strong.
Web 2.0; health knowledge; attitudes; practice; knowledge management; information dissemination; pain; pediatrics; pediatric hospitals; education; professional; electronic mail
This paper is based on the second Jack Pritchard Memorial Lecture given at the Queen's University of Belfast (1). The author describes his own personal response to having multiple sclerosis (MS), and then examines the psycho-social aspects of the disease in a wider context. The distress caused by the emotional difficulties associated with MS is emphasised, and in particular the strain placed on the doctor-patient relationship at the time of diagnosis. The physician's ability to cope with the needs of MS families is explored, together with the importance of offering counselling. Also discussed is the ethical question of whether or not the patient should be told the complete truth. Patients with MS are seen as having a potential not only for helping each other, but also for being able to share in the management of their own health care.
The BostonBreathes (BB) system is an interactive website enabling physician-physician and physician-patient communication, monitoring (peak-flow, medication use, symptoms) of asthma patients in the home, and patient and family asthma education. The system helps primary care physicians to function in team relationships with asthma specialists and nurses. Patients and families can interact with their health professionals online as members of the care team. BB uniquely combines patient education, monitoring, and clinical teamwork functions into one integrated web environment.
To lay the groundwork for a better understanding of patient views on medical confidentiality.
Studies were found by searching medline, bioethicsline, and selected bibliographies. Articles concerning physician perspectives or implications of legal and administrative regulations were excluded. Only peer-reviewed journal articles reporting original research on patients' confidentiality views and conduct were included.
Many patients are unaware of or misunderstand their legal or ethical right to medical confidentiality protections, which leads them to both over- and underestimate confidentiality protections. The possibility that medical information might be revealed, intentionally or not, to acquaintances in a clinic or other social community troubles patients as much as information release to insurers or employers. A significant minority of patients distrust confidentiality protections, leading some to report that they delay or forgo medical care. If doubtful that confidentiality will be upheld, patients will act independently to protect information.
Our review found a wider variety of understandings and beliefs about medical confidentiality among patients than are often indicated in the writings of practitioners or legal experts. As medical confidentiality regulations evolve, these differences need to be recognized and accounted for in interactions between practitioners and patients.
review; medical confidentiality; patient attitudes; privacy; biomedical ethics
To evaluate the patient, physician, and visit-related factors associated with patient ratings of positive physician relational communication.
Pre- and post-visit surveys were conducted with 485 patients attending a routine periodic health exam with one of 64 participating physicians. The audio-recorded visits were coded for elements of patient-physician communication including assertive responses, partnership building, question asking, supportive talk, and expressions of concern.
Patient reports of positive physician relational communication were associated with patient perceptions of how well the physician understood the patient’s health care preferences and values, a patient-physician interaction outside of the exam room, and physician-prompted patient expressions of concern.
In addition to a patient’s perception of their relationship with their physician going into the visit, relatively simple acts like extending the interaction beyond the exam room and ensuring that patients feel invited to express concerns they may have during the visit may influence patient perceptions of physician relational communication.
This study offers preliminary support for the idea that relational communication and its associated benefits may be fostered through simple physician-driven acts such as interacting with patients outside of the exam room and encouraging patients to express concerns within the visit.
Objectives. To develop and implement a seminar course for graduate students in the social and administrative pharmaceutical sciences to enhance knowledge and confidence with respect their abilities to demonstrate appropriate business etiquette.
Design. A 1-credit graduate seminar course was designed based on learner-centered constructivist theory and application of Fink’s Taxonomy for Significant Learning.
Assessment. Eleven students participated in the spring 2011 seminar course presentations and activities. Students completed pre- and post-assessment instruments, which included knowledge and attitudinal questions. Formative and summative assessments showed gains in student knowledge, perceived skills, and confidence based on observation and student-reported outcomes.
Conclusion. Graduate student reaction to the course was overwhelmingly positive. The etiquette course has potential application in doctor of pharmacy education, other graduate disciplines, undergraduate education, and continuing professional development.
seminar; graduate education; educational theory; professionalism; business etiquette
The digital revolution will have a profound impact on how physicians and health care delivery organizations interact with patients and the community at-large. Over the coming decades, face-to-face patient/doctor contacts will become less common and exchanges between consumers and providers will increasingly be mediated by electronic devices.
In highly developed health care systems like those in Israel, the United States, and Europe, most aspects of the health care and consumer health experience are becoming supported by a wide array of technology such as electronic and personal health records (EHRs and PHRs), biometric & telemedicine devices, and consumer-focused wireless and wired Internet applications.
In an article in this issue, Peleg and Nazarenko report on a survey they fielded within Israel's largest integrated delivery system regarding patient views on the use of electronic communication with their doctors via direct-access mobile phones and e-mail. A previous complementary paper describes the parallel perspectives of the physician staff at the same organization. These two surveys offer useful insights to clinicians, managers, researchers, and policymakers on how best to integrate e-mail and direct-to-doctor mobile phones into their practice settings. These papers, along with several other recent Israeli studies on e-health, also provide an opportunity to step back and take stock of the dramatic impact that information & communication technology (ICT) and health information technology (HIT) will have on clinician/patient communication moving forward.
The main goals of this commentary are to describe the scope of this issue and to offer a framework for understanding the potential impact that e-health tools will have on provider/patient communication. It will be essential that clinicians, managers, policymakers, and researchers gain an increased understanding of this trend so that health care systems around the globe can adapt, adopt, and embrace these rapidly evolving digital technologies.
E-health; Health informatics; Electronic health records; Physician-patient communication; Israel; E-mail; Telephone; Health information technology; Information and communication technology; Mobile health; Health care policy