I love email. The convenience of written correspondence cannot be overstated. I’m able to communicate with anyone, anytime and anywhere. When something comes up, I simply make my point in writing, fire off the message, and get said issue, concern, or item off my mind. As a millennial, I far prefer to communicate over email than by phone. I’m better with words and the internet than conversation in person. Despite it’s efficiencies, however, there are just some times when nurse practitioners should avoid hitting the ‘send’ button. 

Emails can get you in trouble. You can’t take them back. They become a part of your permanent record. I have seen a number of nurse practitioners send emails they immediately regret and that land them in awkward positions. As NPs, there are a number of professional considerations to keep in mind in your electronic communication. Avoid these dumb email mistakes that you’ll most certainly regret. 

1. Venting

Getting emotional about work is normal. After all, you probably spend more time at the clinic or hospital than you do at home with your family. When things get heated or frustration mounts, however, this is not a time to express your thoughts to a virtual audience. Making a list or jotting down your feelings about a situation is perfectly OK. But, keep these notes as just that – notes. Address frustrations in person. Venting always comes across unprofessionally over email and will damage your nurse practitioner reputation

2. Talking Negatively about Coworkers

I get it. The front desk staffer at your clinic has overbooked you five days in a row. As a result, you’re taking charts home with you, missing social engagements and are short on sleep. The temptation is to fire off a heated note to your boss informing him of the problem with some not-so-favorable language about your coworker. Don’t forget, however, that emails are easily forwarded, passed along and otherwise shared. So, if you’ve got something to say about a coworker that you wouldn’t want them to see, handle the matter off the record. Not to mention, trash-talking coworkers is generally not recommended regardless of the mode of communication. Approach people problems at work face-to-face in a constructive manner. 

3. Arguing

Is your boss riding you about a patient complaint? Or, perhaps you’re frustrated with your supervising physician about clinical decision making? Just like chatting via text, written content in an email can be easily misconstrued. There are just some conversations that are better left to be had in person. Working through disagreements is one of these situations. If you’re in an argument or have a disagreement with your boss, a coworker, or another professional contact, pick up the phone. The chances of reaching a resolution and making your position heard are far better in a face-to-face or at least in a phone conversation. 

4. Wordiness

Sending email may be convenient, but emptying an inbox is a daunting task. Keep the recipient of your email in mind. Email correspondence should generally be brief and to the point. Including too much detail or rambling is likely to keep your message lingering in an inbox awaiting a reply. The easier you make responding to your message, the more likely you are to get a response. 

5. Making Big Announcements

Have a big announcement to make? Whether you’re leaving your nurse practitioner job or have plans to change the staffing structure on your hospital floor, announcing big changes over email may not be the best way to get the word out. Email may leave your boss or coworkers feeling let down as they are unable to get answers to questions, closure, or sense you didn’t have the respect to notify them of something significant in person. While sending an email may feel like it gets you out of a potentially confrontational situation, in reality it makes things worse. Gather your courage and make big announcements or discuss major workplace changes directly with the parties who will be most affected. 

6. Including Protected Health Information (PHI)

Naturally as nurse practitioners we have access to a lot of protected health information. Although we’re well aware of HIPAA, communicating outside the bounds of these guidelines is tempting. Email may be more convenient than your hospital or clinic’s internal, HIPAA-approved communication system. Your personal email, however, is most likely not HIPAA compliant. So, don’t use it to discuss patient care, particularly when it involves specifics. 

7. Really, Including Any Patient Care Information at All…

Unless you’re documenting in an official chart, keeping most patient care questions off the written record altogether is an even safer practice. If legal questions about care ever surface, any emails about the patient will be called into question. If there’s any indication of malpractice, substandard care etc., your seemingly innocent message could land you in big trouble. So, keep communication about patients on your facility’s official channels and think twice about the legal implications of what you’re typing. 

Have you ever made any email snafus in your work as a nurse practitioner?


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