The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care recently announced family health teams (FHTs) “must make reasonable efforts within the Budget included in Schedule ‘B’ to ensure that the option of email communication is available to patients.”
To complicate things even further, the Ministry also stated there is no additional funding available for FHTs who implement email communication. With these barriers, it is understandable why many teams are struggling to find an effective way of providing email communication. The question remains:
How can FHTs meet the requirements of the Ministry’s funding agreement without opening the floodgates for privacy concerns, liability issues, and overworked doctors and clinical staff?
Email can be a useful and convenient tool to help deliver patient-centred care. However, as outlined in the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario fact sheet, there are inherent risks when sharing personal health information via email. In addition to the security and privacy concerns, healthcare providers may also face concerns about liability around the timeliness of responses to email from patients.
We’ve always taken a clinician-driven approach to patient communication. As a product built by a physician, for physicians, we are committed to finding ways to use technology to improve patient care without increasing workload. That philosophy provides the foundation for two complimentary Ocean solutions that enable electronic communication with patients.
Ocean eRequests: Using Secure, Structured Online Forms to Receive Electronic Patient Messages
Ocean eRequests are designed to alleviate pressure on phone lines by allowing patients to securely contact their physician through an eForm embedded into the clinic’s website. Clinical staff can then manage inbound messages from patients and triage from one centralized location in the Ocean Portal.
Unlike email, eRequests can include reminders about what information should and shouldn’t be communicated, and can include drop-down menus and other structured fields to limit what a patient would share. By building these controls into the form, clinics can use eRequests to meet ministry standards for email communication while reducing liability and keeping workflow disruption to a minimum.
To illustrate, Bridgepoint Active Healthcare uses eRequests on their website to allow patients to directly contact the family health team. Each menu option triggers a different question to appear.
Aside from communicating with the healthcare provider, eRequests can also be used for new patient intake forms, appointment requests & cancellations, prescription renewals, uninsured service requests, and patient self-referrals. In addition to meeting the Ministry’s standards, eRequests are secure, encrypted, and PHIPA-compliant.
Ocean Online: A Secure Way to Send Patient Messages Without Exposing PHI
With Ocean, clinics can send secure messages to patients, add attachments, and optionally allow them to respond – without including any PHI in an email. Patients are sent a brief message via email with a link that takes them to a secure, encrypted page where they can view their messages or complete forms. Patients are not required to register for an account, log in, or remember a password, and clinics can control when and if they want the patient to have the option to reply.
This highly controlled, clinic-driven approach to sending messages can give clinics a fast and efficient way of reaching patients with things like negative test results, referral details, or lab requisitions. By enabling alerts, clinics can also track when a patient has read or responded to a message, and even receive notifications if a message is not viewed within a timeframe.
Through eRequests and Ocean Online Messages, we are giving clinics a secure, controlled way of using email to communicate with patients without burdening the clinic.
If you would like to learn more about Ocean eRequests and Online Messages, or you would like to get started, contact our team at ocean.tips/support.