Ashish_AtrejaDuring an AGA-committee sponsored symposium on Tuesday, three experts will analyze the latest trends in patient-provider communication, including electronic patient portals, email, social media and patient-education apps. The symposium, titled 21st Century Patient-Provider Communication, is sponsored by the AGA Institute Education and Training.

“One of the most critical aspects of patients’ experiences with health care is how patients perceive their communication with providers,” said symposium chair Ashish Atreja, MD, MPH, assistant professor of gastroenterology and director of the informatics for research, outcomes and quality program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

“With more and more technology coming in the new millennium, there is a concern that the gap in communication between patient and provider is actually widening,” Dr. Atreja continued. “We decided to hold this symposium to show how we can use technology and still have some face time with patients and communicate better so patients don’t feel there is a communications gap.”

As an example, Dr. Atreja said electronic health records present a communication challenge because providers often lose eye contact with patients while they type notes into the patients’ health records.

Lin Chang, MD, professor of medicine in the division of digestive diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, will share strategies physicians can use to document efficiently and still communicate with patients. Tips include using smart tools in the electronic records systems to automate the documentation process and positioning the computer so the patient and provider can maintain eye contact throughout the encounter.

For providers who don’t use electronic health records, email communication and electronic patient portals can help practices communicate directly with patients. Rajeev Jain, MD, chief of gastroenterology at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas and clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, will discuss these communication options.

“Most patients have smartphones and computer access these days, and they expect to communicate with physicians in the same ways they communicate with friends and family,” Dr. Atreja said. “There are rules and hospital policies on how to use email effectively to communicate with patients. There are also patient portals on hospital or physician websites — some standalone and some linked with the electronic health records.”

Email should be used for non-urgent communication with patients, such as lab reports and upcoming appointments, Dr. Atreja said. The American Medical Informatics Association has published guidelines for the clinical use of email to help physicians avoid breaching patient confidentiality and security issues.

Finally, Lee A. Aase, director of the Center for Social Media at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, and a pioneer in the use of social media in health care, will discuss best practices for communicating with patients through apps and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Follow Dr. Aase on Twitter @LeeAase.

“Many patients expect communication through Facebook and Twitter, and there are now apps available for patient education,” Dr. Atreja said. “Some of the same concerns that apply to email also apply to social media. We need to be vigilant in protecting confidentiality and the patient’s privacy. There is a fine line to walk, and each one of us is at a different stage in how we have started to leverage social media in our practices.”

This session will take place on Tuesday, May 6, from 10-11 a.m. in Room S104B.