C1.2 A Our practice manages communications from patients.
Why this is important
Effective communication with patients via telephone and electronic communication (eg emails and text messages) ensures that:
- patients can contact the practice when they need to
- patients can make appointments and receive other information in a timely fashion
- urgent enquiries are dealt with in a timely and medically appropriate way.
Meeting this Criterion
Communicating by telephone
Before putting a caller on hold, reception staff must first ask if the matter is an emergency.
When a member of the practice team provides information (such as test results) to a patient by telephone, they must make sure that the patient is correctly identified so that patient confidentiality is not compromised. To do this, they must obtain at least three of the following approved patient identifiers (items of information that are accepted for use to identify a patient):
- Family name and given names
- Date of birth
- Gender (as identified by the patient)
- Patient health record number, where it exists
- Individual Healthcare Identifier
A Medicare number is not an approved identifier. Medicare numbers are not unique and some people have more than one Medicare number because they are members of more than one family and are on multiple cards. Also, some Australian residents and visitors may not have a Medicare number.2
Communicating by electronic means
If you choose to communicate with patients electronically (eg by telehealth, email, secure messaging or text message), you must:
- adhere to the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs), the Privacy Act 1988 and any state-specific laws
- clearly state what content the practice team can and cannot send using electronic communication (eg your practice might require that sensitive information only be communicated in person by a medical practitioner or other appropriate health professional, unless there are exceptional circumstances)
- inform patients that there are risks associated with some methods of electronic communications and that their privacy and confidentiality may be compromised
- obtain consent from the patient before sending health information to the patient electronically (consent is implied if the patient initiates electronic communication with the practice) or through technology to undertake appointments
- document in patient health record the outcome of your request for consent to communicate electronically
- check that the information is correct and that you are sending it to the correct email address, phone number, or person, before sending the information
- avoid sending information that promotes products and/or preventive healthcare, because some patients can interpret this as an advertisement.
If you allow patients to contact the practice by email, inform them:
- of how long they can expect to wait for a response
- that they should not use email to contact the practice in an emergency.
- If you are unable to reach a patient for a telehealth appointment (eg the patient does not answer at their allocated appointment time, or there are technology issues that prevent connection), document any reasons the communication failed in the patient health record. Your practice could establish a back-up plan (eg alternative mode of communication) for when communication failure occurs.
Informing the clinical team of communications
All messages from patients, to patients, or about patients must be added to and become part of the patient’s health record, as must any actions taken in response to the message.
Develop procedures for the following:
- How messages are communicated – internal electronic messaging systems are useful for this
- How messages are recorded (eg for privacy reasons, it may be unacceptable to record them on a sticky note)
- How to ensure that a message is given to the intended person and what to do if the intended recipient is absent
- How to ensure that practitioners can respond to messages in a timely manner
Communicating with patients with communication needs
If patients (eg patients from culturally and linguistic diverse backgrounds or those with a communication impairment) need to use other forms of communication, consider using the services that are available, such as:
Communication during a crisis, emergency and disaster
During a crisis, emergency or disaster, the volume of incoming telephone or electronic communication might increase. It is important that your practice, as part of your emergency response plan, develop and maintain a communication policy to appropriately triage and manage communication to patients and clinical team members during this time.
If your patients can make appointments online:
- select the technology and system that best suits your practice’s requirements
- decide which appointments are appropriate for online bookings (eg you could offer this option only for routine, non-urgent appointments).
Meeting each Indicator
C1.2 A Our practice manages communications from patients.
- use three approved forms of identification for identifying patients over the phone, so that information is given to the right person
- document in each patient’s health record when:
- team members have attempted to contact (eg left a phone message) or successfully contacted the patient
- a patient contacts the practice, the reason for the contact, and the advice and information the patient was given.
- have a policy, procedure or flow chart that shows how to manage messages from patients
- maintain a communication policy to manage and triage incoming communication during a crisis, emergency or disaster
- demonstrate how your patients receive open, timely and appropriate communication about their health care during a crisis, emergency or disaster
- document what information and advice the practice team can and cannot give to patients over the phone or electronically
- educate reception staff about which messages need to be transferred to the clinical team
- have an appointment system that includes time for the clinical team to respond to patient messages
- have an automatic email response (if your email system allows it) that includes the practice’s telephone number and when the sender can expect to receive a reply
- establish a process so that patients are advised of the practice’s policy for checking, responding to, and sending emails
- establish a back-up plan for when communication failure occurs (eg an alternative mode of communication if a telehealth appointment does not connect).