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Managing email expectations in your healthcare practice
As a healthcare practitioner, how you communicate in your emails is just as important as how you communicate in face-to-face sessions with your clients. What does your email style say about you? Are you inadvertently setting expectations you might not be able to meet?
As a healthcare practitioner, you know that your communication skills can dramatically affect how a client responds to your care. This is especially important during face-to-face sessions, either online or in the office. But it’s also important in the way you communicate through email.
Everyone has a unique, personal style when it comes to emails. You might prefer to send short, to-the-point messages, or you might like to go into great length explaining an idea or use a liberal peppering of exclamation marks or even emojis to convey enthusiasm. There’s no wrong way to communicate (as long as it’s securely); it all depends on your style and your clients’ expectations.
If you run into trouble with your email communication style, it might be because it doesn’t line up with what the client is used to in their real-life interactions with you.
For example, if you quickly send a to-the-point business email, but your client is used to having long leisurely conversations with you, your client might mistake the email as needlessly curt.
On the other hand, if you’re emailing with a lot of emojis and exclamation marks, but you aren’t that exuberant in real life, these emails might come across as confusing or disingenuous.
Today, we’re considering different email styles and the expectations you could be setting. After reading this post, you may decide to put a few guidelines in place so your tone is consistent and the expectations you set are ones you can easily meet.
The time you send an email or reply
Do you send emails or respond to them outside of normal office hours?
Today, when we can carry a virtual office in our pocket, it can be difficult to keep conventional office hours. Most of us have encountered people who expect a response to an email right away, and standing firm in the face of such expectations might feel uncomfortable to you. On the other hand, if you fall into the habit of responding to or sending emails after business hours, it might give the appearance that you’re always on.
While such dedication could be viewed as devotion to your clients, ask yourself if this level of availability is sustainable. Also, this style of communication, while looking like an incredible work ethic to some, might appear as a lack of boundaries and time management to others.
Do you respond immediately to emails as they come in?
If a push notification chimes every time you get an email, you may have developed the habit of immediately picking up your phone to respond. Your responsiveness will likely be very appreciated by your clients, but be wary of setting an expectation you can’t or don’t want to keep.
Just like responding outside of normal office hours, responding immediately to an email paints the picture of a practitioner who’s always on call. If you’ve set the expectation that you normally answer back immediately, and then one day you can’t… imagine the distress this could cause your client as they eagerly await a reply that takes hours to arrive.
Another downside to responding to emails immediately is the effect it can have on your focus. If you’re managing your own practice, you know the amount of concentration it takes to handle day-to-day administrative tasks. If you’re juggling paying the bills with answering emails, that multi-tasking can cause you to take longer to complete your work.
Exclamation marks, emojis, and other colorful expressions
Are you casual and enthusiastic in your client sessions? If so, using exclamation marks, colorful signatures, and other email embellishments might be a suitable style for you. However, if you want to convey a more serious tone, you might want to stick with straightforward text and refrain from using too many colorful expressions.
Also, think twice about using emojis. Not to be confused with emoticons which are text-based facial expressions, emojis, while cute and expressive, can be device-dependent, and quite often your recipient won't see the emoji you think you're sending.
When you express yourself in email, you want your clients to feel they’re having an email conversation with the same person they see face to face. Ask yourself if using embellishments feels natural to you. If not, there’s no reason to include them. Learn to cultivate a writing style that mirrors your natural conversational tone as much as possible. Be genuine and authentic in your communications, and you can’t go wrong.
Overly long emails
Like immediate responses, responding with long, detailed replies can set expectations you can’t always fulfill. Quick emails about appointment changes or resources are one thing. But an analysis of your client’s recent visit with her mother is quite another.
If an email feels like a therapy session in itself, you might want to rethink how you charge for your services. Decide upfront if therapy over email is an option you want to offer your clients and make sure you’re both on the same page about any fees this feedback might incur.
Also, keep in mind that providing clinical services over email could be considered a form of telehealth. Nothing wrong with that but make sure you check with your licensing board and state professional organization before you offer this service, so you’re aware of any rules or regulations.
Forms and documents to help you manage expectations
Nothing beats clear communication early in the relationship when it comes to managing your clients’ expectations. While verbal conversations can be forgotten or misunderstood, a written summary clearly stating what you will and won’t do as part of your practitioner/client relationship can be referred back to if confusion arises later in the relationship.
Hushmail partner Person Centered Tech offers forms and sample documents to help clarify how you handle online communication in your practice. You can access several of these documents, including a sample communications policy and a Request For Nonsecure Communications form, free of charge with your registration to their website.
Person Centered Tech is also offering a free self-study CE course about how to best use email in your practice. As a Hushmail customer, when you sign up for the course, you’ll receive access to the Request For Nonsecure Communications form as a Hush Secure Forms template.
Make sure your email is secure
Developing an email style that you and your clients are comfortable with can take some time. However, you can provide a strong foundation for your relationship right away by giving your clients a secure way to communicate with you through email. Hushmail for Healthcare encrypted email and e-signable web forms are HIPAA compliant and let your clients know that their conversations with you are private and their protected health information (PHI) is secure.
As a healthcare practitioner, you know that your communication skills can dramatically affect how a client responds to your care. This applies to in-office sessions, of course, but also to your style of online communication. Everyone has a unique, personal style when it comes to composing and sending emails. There’s no wrong way to communicate (as long as it’s securely); it all depends on your style and your clients’ expectations.