The modern version of Shakespeare's classic question "To be, or not to be?" is "To e -mail, or not to e -mail?" With so many choices at our fingertips — from telephoning to text messaging to e-mailing — it can be hard to ascertain which manner of communication is best.
The fact is they all work well. The key is to know what mode to use under which circumstance. While one person may respond immediately to your e-mails, another may allow your notes to linger in his inbox for days because he would rather correspond via text, meet face-to-face, or talk on the phone.
Nowhere is clear communication more essential than in healthcare. One verbal blunder or electronic error can have catastrophic effects. Here are three suggestions to help you effectively interact with others.
1. Declare your preferences.
The best way to begin streamlining your communication is to let people know how they can best connect with you. Naturally, your preference will vary depending on the situation. If it's necessary for you to keep a record of your discussions, then it's advisable to correspond electronically. You can establish this standard by saying, "Let's connect via e-mail so we've got some notes to refer to." That way there will always be a thread to follow if required for medicolegal or administrative reasons. E-mail is also the favored way to share links and connect people with one another. Sometimes, though, only a verbal conversation will get the results you're after. In these cases, arrange a telephone or in-person meeting. Text messaging should be used primarily for notifications and casual conversations that don't need to be preserved as part of a medical record.
2. Ask others how they want to correspond.
Efficiency is a priority when interacting with other people, especially busy medical professionals. That's why it helps to develop a "communication agreement" with patients and colleagues by asking this simple question: "What's the best way for us to stay in touch on this matter?" You'll find that some people will provide you with their private cell phone number and others will ask you to reach them through their assistant or office manager. However you're asked to connect, honor it. Concurring on a method of communication at the beginning of a professional relationship will save everyone time down the road.
3. Maintain a high level of professionalism.
No matter how you choose to communicate — whether it's on the phone, in an e-mail, or via text — view every single message you deliver as a piece of formal correspondence that will live on in perpetuity. The last thing you want is for a casual, off-the-cuff comment you share to resurface in the wrong place with the wrong people at the wrong time. A commitment to preserve the integrity of your professional and patient relationships should underlie the tone of every digital and personal conversation you have. That, coupled with your duty to maintain confidentiality, is what will set you apart as a respected professional.
As time goes on the methods we use to communicate with one another will continue to evolve. But one thing that will never change is the value of sharing your expertise with clarity, compassion, and respect.
Sue Jacques is The Civility CEO®, a veteran forensic medical investigator turned corporate civility consultant, professional speaker, and author. Jacques helps individuals, businesses, and medical practices create courteous cultures and prosper through professionalism. www.TheCivilityCEO.com.