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Texting Your Doctor

There is no reason why patients can’t text their doctor when they need their health issues addressed. I text my handyman when something is wrong in my house. But why has US healthcare evolved to exclude texting your doctor?

The Risk of Texting

From a medical-legal perspective, if my patient texts me that they are having chest pain and can’t breathe and I don’t get back to them in time – well, that’s self-explanatory.

From the handyman example above, maybe my balcony is hanging on by a single lag bolt, and I’m standing there, and I text my handyman that I might fall off at any moment. In this example, the handyman wouldn’t be liable.

However, healthcare law has evolved to protect patients, often at the risk of infantilizing them. I’m liable if my patient texts me with something imminent and I don’t get back to them in time.

Setting Boundaries Around Texting

The best remedy for this is to educate the patient. When I onboard a new patient into Digital Nomad Health, I go over what is and isn’t appropriate when it comes to texting the clinic.

I want to hear back from my patients, especially with updates on how they are doing and how their disease is progressing or resolving.

But I don’t want to be advised of any health emergencies because an emergency requires emergency measures that never involve texting anyone. In the US, it’s almost always calling 911. Once my patients are stabilized, they can text or call me to update me on things.

The Value of Texting

Voicemails, emails, and texting your doctor are forms of asynchronous conversations. The advantage is that there is a trail of breadcrumbs the patient can follow to remember what happened to them.

It’s also valuable because it gives the patient time to see how they are improving or how their health changes over time. Too often, the patient feels pressured during the office visit, and if there is no record of the conversation, too much is forgotten.

Many of my patients can address minor issues without having to come in and see me. Or they can ask questions when traveling abroad. It’s great for me and great for my patients.

Patient Privacy and Text Messaging

No communication platform is 100% safe. All have some risk of patient privacy leakage. However, we use text messages to share sensitive information all the time, and the same is true when sharing health information with your physician over text.

Encrypting data and using a biometric lock on your phone can help increase security. Understanding how phishing and spammers work can also protect you.

How to Use Text Messaging @ DNH

Here are some good practices for texting us here at Digital Nomad Health:

1. If it takes longer than 5 sentences, it’s best done over a phone call.

2. Use text messaging to continue a conversation with us. It’s less useful for brand new issues.

3. If the answer you expect takes more than 5 sentences, it might be best to call instead of text.

4. Text the clinic when you need updates, have follow-up questions, or need to confirm something.

5. Use photos as media attachments whenever you are texting the clinic.

6. Switching to a phone call is best if your text requires a reply in the next 12 hours.

7. Urgenies and emergencies should never be communicated over a text message.

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