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Feb 5 2014   1:05PM GMT

Physician texting grows as patients demand real-time communication

Posted by: adelvecchio
HIPAA Risks, Protected health information, secure text messaging, texting

1386183939_McClintick_CliffGuest post by Cliff McClintick, COO, Doc Halo

Physicians have long made the decisions on when and how to communicate with patients. For test results, follow-up questions or words of advice, patients have had to wait for a callback — or make another appointment.

That model is quickly changing among forward-thinking clinicians who are increasingly communicating in ways that respect patients’ fast-paced, technology-dependent lifestyles. In many cases, that means the real-time dialogue of patient and physician texting.

Of course, communicating with patients brings specific privacy considerations, and that’s a major reason why physicians have been cautious about adopting new methods. State-of-the-art systems such as the secure texting technology offered by Doc Halo, however, allow healthcare providers to connect with patients by text message while complying with HIPAA regulations on protected health information (PHI).

Communicating on patients’ terms is particularly important for doctors who work with younger populations. Consider this: For teens and 20-somethings, phone calls feel archaic. To Millenials, those born in 1981 or later, calling without emailing first can seem inconsiderate, as the Wall Street Journal noted last year.

Millennials and the generation after them have spent their entire lives communicating by text and instant message. Researchers last year found that U.S. smartphone users ages 18 to 24 sent an average of 67 texts per day.

Last year NBC News called patient-physician texting “the new age housecall.” Their story profiled doctors who see taking questions and sending follow-up messages by text as a way to form closer connections with patients, and work more efficiently and effectively.

Of course, texting is just as natural for many physicians as it is for their patients. Among new physicians, smartphone usage is roughly 100%, and texting is ubiquitous.

Texting is particularly popular among physicians who have moved to a concierge or boutique practice model. Such physicians typically collect membership fees, make themselves available for messages and calls nearly all the time and forgo dealing with insurance companies.

The old methods of communicating — convenient for physicians, but far less so for the people they serve — still dominate in most practices. Still, connecting electronically is hardly uncommon, with a third of all practices communicating with patients by text or email, according to a study from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions.

Unfortunately, many of the fears that physicians have about texting with patients are based in fact. Hitting “send” on a typical texting application leaves the message, and any PHI it may contain, unsecure. That means the healthcare provider is exposed to potential HIPAA-related fines.

There’s an easy solution. An effective secure texting application includes features such as encryption, automatic log-out after a period of inactivity and a remote wipe option if the phone is lost. Doc Halo, in fact, includes numerous other security features, including an exclusive provider verification process and two-step verification for lost passwords.

Patients today expect quick, convenient access to their physicians via modern communication methods such as texting. With the right tools, it’s possible to give them just that.

Cliff McClintick is Chief Operating Officer for Doc Halo who specializes in healthcare real-time communications and HIPAA compliant secure texting. He is a former Chief Information Officer of an inpatient hospital and has expertise in HIPAA Compliance and Security, Clinical Informatics, and Meaningful Use. He has more than 20 years of information technology design, management, and implementation experience.

Cliff operated his own consulting company for many years and has management experience in very large systems and implementation projects. He has successfully implemented large systems and applications for companies such as Children’s Hospital, Proctor and Gamble, Fidelity, General Motors, Duke Energy, Heinz, IAMS, and Great American Life Insurance Company.


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