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AMA passes guidelines for doctor/patient e-mail

June 14, 2000
Web posted at: 11:40 a.m. EDT (1540 GMT)

CHICAGO (CNN) -- The American Medical Association has adopted a set of guidelines for making e-mail a more effective means of communication between doctors and patients, while staying mindful of privacy issues and possible technical glitches.

Given the widespread use of e-mail, the AMA said it is "a viable avenue for patient communication," and cited many studies that show it is beneficial to patients. The group said e-mail has the potential to streamline "routine" health matters.

The AMA acknowledged the need to protect patient privacy by requiring doctors to tell patients whether anyone besides the intended recipient will read the message or see it during processing.

Password-protected screen savers should be used for workstations in the office, hospital and at home, the AMA said.

Although doctors should maintain a mailing list of their patients, the AMA said doctors should never send group e-mails where other recipients are listed. Additionally, doctors should not share patients' e-mail addresses with marketers or family members.

The new guidelines require doctors to ask their patients what method of communication they prefer and to document that preference in a patient's chart.

For effective and beneficial electronic communication, the AMA recommended doctors establish a reasonable turnaround time for messages and never use e-mail for urgent matters. The guidelines say doctors should acknowledge messages promptly.

Anticipating technical problems that e-mail users might encounter, the group recommended doctors make weekly back-ups of messages and develop an archive in each physician's office.

The guidelines also state that neither doctors' offices nor health care organizations may be liable for information lost during technical failures or power outages.

The guidelines were recommended at the AMA's annual meeting last year, and Tuesday, members voted to approve them. The association also applies these guidelines to facsimile communications.




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RELATED SITES:
AMA - American Medical Association Home Page


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