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E-mail offers case managers a quick and easy way to reach busy doctors or respond to a question from a patient in the middle of a busy day. However, it also creates a written document, and that means case managers must take the time to read back their e-mail responses before pressing "send," say health care mediation experts.
"Case management is a critical function within health care organizations," says John Biancardi, MA, chief training officer for Conflict Solvers, a health care training firm in Laguna Niguel, CA. "You must be hyper-vigilant when you communicate by e-mail. Always give yourself time to pause, read back what you’ve written, check your grammar and your word choice. Ask yourself, how is this going to be received? Remember, once you press send,’ it’s too late to go back and make changes."
Marc Miller, MD, MBA, president of Conflict Solvers and a former supervisor of case managers, adds that any e-mail a case manager sends must also be HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliant in terms of protecting patient confidentiality. "The last thing you want is for a quick e-mail to come back and haunt you," he stresses.
In addition, Miller urges case managers to avoid ambiguity in their e-mail correspondence. "When you communicate with someone in person or by phone, if they don’t understand you, they can ask you for clarification. When you e-mail, if your message is unclear, you run the risk of creating a misunderstanding or appearing to agree to an [unintended] course of action."
Case managers should also avoid the use of "jargon" in their e-mail correspondence, notes Dan E. Wax, Esq., general counsel for Conflict Solvers. "This is particularly important to avoid if you are communicating with a patient. Remember, you must always give more explanatory information in a written communication than in a verbal communication."
Verbal communication gives case managers more tools to use when the purpose of communication is to defuse conflict, but e-mail also has distinct advantages, notes Miller. "Verbal communication gives you a personal touch. You can use your tone of voice as an additional tool. However, e-mail has the advantage of being one-directional. It gives you time to compose a thoughtful response and weigh it carefully before sending it."