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Email Communications between Patients and Healthcare Providers

Guidelines for writing emails

When emailing your IWK health care providers, please follow the below guidelines.

In the Subject Line, clearly state your topic or type of request.  Some examples are: “Appointment”; “Prescription Refill”; “Lab Results”; or “Medical Advice Needed”.

In the first line of the body of the email (your message), type in the patient’s full name and identification (ID) number. Some examples of ID numbers are hospital unit number; Health Card Number; or Date of Birth (DOB). For research study participation, use your Research Study ID #.

Reasons to use email

Examples of appropriate reasons to email your health care provider: 

  • You need to renew a prescription
  • You need non-urgent medical advice
  • Test results, based on your health care provider’s professional judgment
  • You need to schedule, cancel, or reschedule an appointment
  • You need to discuss clinic or health care provider changes
  • Other non-urgent communication, such as asking for educational materials or resources

Examples of inappropriate reasons to email your health care provider: 

  • Urgent/emergency situations
  • New diagnosis questions
  • Test results (based on health care provider’s judgment)
  • Asking for copies of your health record

The risks of using email

To best protect your privacy and confidentiality, we do not recommend email as your first choice to communicate with your IWK health care providers. Using email to discuss patient information has a number of risks:

  • Email can be forwarded to the wrong person; it can be printed and saved as many paper or electronic copies; it can be copied and pasted to public websites.
  • Email senders can misaddress emails very easily. Make sure you print your email address very clearly when writing it down for someone. Avoid common mistakes. For example, the number one (“1”) and lower case letter “L” (“l”) look the same.
  • Email can be forged or changed without your knowledge.
  • Backup copies of email may exist even after the sender and recipient delete their copies.
  • Employers and online services have a right to save and read any emails that are sent through their systems.
  • Hackers can use email to send viruses to computer systems.
  • Email messages are not encrypted (protected) on the hospital email system and there should be no expectation that the email is encrypted in transit. The hospital cannot guarantee the security of messages that you send to, or receive from, your IWK health care provider(s).
  • Email is a legal record. Your email messages can be used as evidence in court.
  • Your IWK health care provider(s) may not respond as quickly to your email as they would to a phone call or voice message from you. 

Conditions for using email with the IWK

IWK Health cannot guarantee the security or confidentiality of email messages. If you email confidential (private) patient information to an IWK health care provider, the IWK may not be responsible if your message is revealed in the wrong way (improper disclosure). That is, if the improper disclosure was not the IWK’s fault, for example, you included the wrong person or made a mistake in the email address. 

Patients (or their parents or guardians) must agree with their health care provider that they can use email to communicate with each other. Patients (or their parents or guardians) then must consent (agree) to the following conditions (rules):

  • Your IWK health care providers will print any emails that are important to patient care (whether they are emails sent to or from you). These printed emails will be added to the patient’s medical record. Other IWK health care provider(s) will have access to these emails if they are authorized to see the medical record. 
  • Your IWK health care providers may forward your emails to IWK staff or team members working within IWK Health. Some reasons your emails may be forwarded have to do with diagnosis, treatment, or billing.  IWK Health will not forward emails to outside organizations or people who are not part of IWK staff or teams. The IWK will not do this unless they have your written consent beforehand, or unless they are authorized or required to by the law.
  • IWK Health will try to respond to patient emails promptly, but we cannot guarantee we’ll answer your email by a set time. Patients should never use email for medical emergencies or other time-sensitive matters.
  • It is the patient’s responsibility to follow up on emails sent to or from IWK health care providers. For example, scheduling appointments if needed.
  • If a patient is waiting a very long time for IWK Health to reply to their email, it is the patient’s responsibility to follow-up. It is up to you to find out if the IWK received your email. You should ask the IWK when you can expect their reply. 
  • The patient should not use email to send private medical information to IWK Health. You should also let the IWK know if there is anything you do not want the IWK to email to you. 
  • It is the patient’s responsibility to tell IWK Health if there is a change to their email address. You should also tell the IWK if you no longer wish to discuss things by email.
  • The patient is responsible for protecting his or her own email password. You are also responsible for keeping your email from being seen by other people who should not be reading it. IWK Health is not responsible for a patient’s confidential information being revealed in the wrong way if. For example, the IWK is not responsible if you did not hide your password and someone else used it to access your e-mail; if you used your email at a public computer and others read your message because they could see it on the screen; or if you forgot to log off your account when you left the computer and someone else brought your message back up on the screen to read.