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Secure Communications for Patients & Providers

Patient engagement has received more attention in the recent years, as information technology developments continually enhance the way people communicate with each other. The expectations of patients to be more involved in the health care decision-making process, and to have more access to their personal health records have been driving forces for a phenomenon that the health care industry was slow to respond to.

As computers and smartphones become ubiquitous, the need for incentives to increase technology use in health care is growing. Probably the most notable driver of change has been The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' electronic health record (EHR) incentive payment program, established in 2011, to accelerate the adoption and meaningful use of EHR technology by providers and hospitals.

To meet the incentive program's requirements, criteria were established in stages, which included providers attesting to the ability to capture clinical data using certified technology, using health IT for continuous quality improvement at the point of care, exchanging information in structured formats, and using secure electronic messaging to communicate with patients on relevant health information.

Studies in the field of patient engagement indicate that "patients who are more activated are less likely to be obese or to smoke, while being more likely to have clinical indicators that fall within normal parameters—such as normal blood pressure, cholesterol, and hemoglobin A1c levels—in contrast to patients who are less activated. There is also evidence that more activated patients are less likely than less activated patients to use the emergency department or to be hospitalized." (1)

So an engaged patient is more likely to take better care of themselves. Significant in this new health communication era is the large percentage of patients likely to choose a doctor who offers other ways for them to communicate besides an in-person office visit. A national survey done by Catalyst Healthcare Research (CHR) found that 93 percent of adult patients surveyed would choose a doctor who offered an email communication option. In their findings CHR stated that "the Internet is quick and convenient, and it's in the best interest of health systems, hospitals and physician practices to embrace online options for their patients' healthcare needs. As healthcare changes, it's crucial that providers stay relevant." (2)

Otherwise called Point of Care Communications, various technologies are currently available for secure communication and transfer of health information between patients and providers, such as EHR patient portals, telemedicine, email and text messaging.

Provider adoption of smartphones is nearly universal, and secure text messaging makes sense as an effective communication method. Texting can make care coordination with colleagues, staff and referring doctors faster and easier, with the ability to quickly create channels for communicating with patients in the circle of care. Consider a mother or father wanting to quickly send their doctor a secure text with an image of a rash their child just developed. Within the care coordination circle the doctor forwards the text to a specialist for assessment, then texts the concerned parent with recommendations, before needing to make an in-person appointment.

A provider summed up the benefits of incorporating communication technology for treatment, care coordination and patient engagement in the following way:  "We really look for opportunities for technology to just make it a better, easier, simpler experience,” … A more efficient method of care is often just less worry or inconvenience for our patients.” (3)

Resources:

1. Pay attention to “patient activation”. The Incidental Economist. http://theincidentaleconomist.com/wordpress/pay-attention-to-patient-activation/

2. 93% of Adult Patients Want E-mail Communication With Physicians. Becker's Health IT & CIO Review.  http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/healthcare-information-technology/93-of-adult-patients-want-e-mail-communication-with-physicians.html

3. Health IT Communication Tools Key for Quality Patient Experience. Patient EngagementHIT, http://patientengagementhit.com/news/health-it-communication-tools-key-for-quality-patient-experience