The Burnside Family Practice is mindful that even if patients have provided electronic contact details they may not be proficient in communicating via electronic means and patient choice will be obtained before using electronic communication.
Patients who request information to be sent by email must be informed that there may a risk (as with any other document) that it could be read by someone other than the intended recipient.
Patient consent to receive email must be recorded in the patient file.
The Australian Privacy Principles published by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner state that: “Health Information is regarded as one of the most sensitive types of personal information. For this reason, the Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act) provides extra protections arounds its handling”.
The Privacy Act defines health information as:
- a) information or an opinion about:
- The health or a disability (at any time) or an individual; or
- An individual’s expressed wishes about the future provision of health services to him or her; or
- A health service provided, or to be provided, to an individual; that is also personal information; o
- b) other personal information collected to provide, or in providing, a health service;
- c) other personal information about an individual collected in connection with the donation, or intended donation, by the individual of his or her body parts, organs or body substances; or
- d) genetic information about an individual in a form that is, or could be, predictive of the health of the individual or a genetic relative of the individual.
Our practice’s primary reason for communicating electronically to patients is to issue appointment reminders and we verify the correct contact details of the patient at the time of the appointment being made.
Whilst not encouraged, our practice allows patients an opportunity to obtain advice or information related to their care by electronic means, but only where the general practitioner determines that a face-to-face consultation or telephone consultation is unnecessary and that communication by electronic means is suitable. Our practice will only provide information that is of a general, non-urgent nature and will not initiate electronic communication (other than SMS appointment reminders) with patients. Any electronic communication received from patients is also used as a method to verify the contact details we have recorded on file are correct and up-to-date.
Communication with patients via electronic means is conducted with appropriate regard to privacy. Before obtaining and documenting the patient’s consent, patients are fully informed through information contained in the Practice email policy as well as information provided by staff of the risks associated with electronic communication in that the information could be intercepted or read by someone other than the intended recipient. Our practice also has an automatic email response system set up so that whenever an email is received into the practice, the sender receives an automated message reinforcing information regarding these risks.
When an email message is sent or received in the course of a person’s duties, that message is a business communication and therefore constitutes an official record. Patients are informed of any costs to be incurred as a result of the electronic advice or information being provided, and all electronic contact with patients is recorded in their health record.
All members of the practice team are made aware of our policy regarding electronic communication with patients during induction, and are reminded of this policy on an ongoing basis. They are made aware that electronic communications could be forwarded, intercepted, printed and stored by others. Each member of the practice team holds full accountability for emails sent in their name or held in their mailbox, and they are expected to utilise this communication tool in an acceptable manner. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Limiting the exchange of personal emails
- Refraining from responding to unsolicited or unwanted emails
- Deleting hoaxes or chain emails
- Email attachments from unknown senders are not to be opened
- Virus checking all email attachments
- Maintaining appropriate language within electronic communications
- Ensuring any personal opinions are clearly indicated as such, and
- Confidential information (e.g. patient information) must be encrypted.
Overseas Transfer of Data
Our practice reserves the right to check an individual’s email accounts as a precaution to fraud, viruses, workplace harassment or breaches of confidence by members of the practice team. Inappropriate use of the email facility will be fully investigated and may be grounds for dismissal.
The practice uses an email disclaimer notice on outgoing emails that are affiliated with the practice stating
“This email and any attachments may contain privileged and confidential information. If this e-mail is not addressed to you please notify the sender immediately by return email and delete it from your system.
Any views expressed in this message are those of the individual sender and may not necessarily reflect the views of Burnside Family Practice. Email is not a secure form of communication and may transmit computer viruses. Burnside Family Practice takes no responsibility for misdirection, coccuption or unaurthozed use of email communications, nor for any damage that may be caused as a result of transmitting or receiving an email communication.”