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Online Messaging Improves Doctor-Patient Relationships: Why Aren’t More Doctors Doing It?

3 Mins read

doctor-patient relationshipPrivate messaging and sharing with doctors and patients may be a key factor in improving patient-doctor communications and achieving better patient education and compliance.

doctor-patient relationshipPrivate messaging and sharing with doctors and patients may be a key factor in improving patient-doctor communications and achieving better patient education and compliance.

Using online services and smartphone apps for private messaging and sharing like PathcareWhisper, and CoverMe (an iPhone app for private Texting & Secure Phone Calls) it’s never been easier to conduct a private, ad-free conversation with your patients.

Fact is, U.S. physicians are discovering the virtues of online private messaging and sharing to improve their effectiveness, reduce stress, and improve their patients’ health and customer retention numbers.

But if private messaging and sharing with doctors and patients is so good, then why aren’t more physicians adopting it?

The answer to that question is a bit complex. It relates to privacy concerns, ease of use and return on investment (ROI) when a doctor invests precious time and money in a private messaging and file sharing service. It also relates to a top-heavy information technology focus in the US healthcare market dictated by Obamacare.

While healthcare IT vendors predictably view online messaging as a technology issue (smartphone app, SMS, email, Web services) – ultimately, the most important question for a busy physician is whether or not there is a business case for private sharing and messaging with doctors and patients?

(Read more here about the 8 step process for a physician towards building a business case for private messaging and sharing with patients and doctors in a private or group practice).

Patient portals are online tools that offer health care providers as well as patients the opportunity to communicate health information securely. The federal government recommends patient portals for providing secure communication that includes patient data.

Features of patient portals include essential documentation such as visit summaries and lab results. Patient requests for medication refills can be sent and appointment confirmations received while patient questions can be answered in a timely manner. Overall, patients can more actively participate in their care.

Private messaging and sharing with doctors and patients

Patients who use a secure patient portal to communicate with their healthcare providers and complete online service transactions are nearly three times as likely to stay with their providers than those who are do not, the health care news service The Lund Report found. Europeans have been actively using secure private messaging and sharing for some time.

In Denmark, 80 percent of communication between physician and patient is online.

To email or not?

Dr. Ted Epperly highly recommends the efficacy of doctor-patient communication via email. He says that in 32 years as a family physician, he’s seen this medium abused less than four times. Its use has led to expedited care and fewer hospital visits. Patients as a whole are well aware that they are taking up a doctor’s time and most use their communication privilege sparingly, with respect for their physician’s tight schedule.

Dr. Howard Luks, an orthopedic surgeon, agrees with Dr. Epperly about the value of digital doctor-patient communications, and recommends that doctors put aside their fears of being inundated by patients as a result of opening up such fast, informal communication channels.

Health-related practitioners such as a pharmacist or pharmacy technician also need to engage in secure patient communications. Many pharmacies communicate via text messages regarding prescription status. Walgreens pharmacists use an e-communication program that coordinates care with patients. Their digital communications capability enables pharmacists and clinicians to rapidly create reports to share with primary care providers. A soon-to-be pharmacy technician can look forward to learning how to use the effective communication utilities that PathCare provides. It is clear, especially when you consider the federal government’s push for electronic health records, that secure digital communication is the future of health care information processing. Training medical personnel is an essential step in reaching this goal.

Concerns regarding private messaging and sharing with doctors and patients

According to Physicians Practice, while physicians and patients  both prefer secure private messaging and sharing, there are some issues.

  • Contacting a patient via electronic means requires patient approval.
  • You must also make it easy for such communications to be terminated by text, online or another mechanism.
  • For security reasons, ensure that patient telephone numbers are regularly updated. Each time patients visit the office this information should be verified.

Email is not risk-free, so it is worth considering dedicated HIPAA-compliant services such as Pathcare for private messaging and sharing with patients and doctors.

A Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliant service for private messaging and sharing with patients and doctors will protect the connection with 256 bit encryption and use a reputable certificate authority such as Thawte or Verisign.

But while protecting the connection with the online messaging service provider with SSL is a must requirement – HIPAA has a comprehensive list of physical, administrative and technical safeguards that the service provider must implement following a top-down risk analysis.

(Online messaging / shutterstock)

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