- Her doctor called us, couldn’t get hold of us, so left a voicemail asking us to call to discuss the results.
- I called the doctor’s office back …spoke to the receptionist ..had to tell her the reason for the call.
- Put on hold till the doctor who was busy with another patient was able to talk and inform me that x-rays were ok and she wanted us to schedule a follow up visit in six months
With phone, email, texting and other modes of communication available, your patients, referral partners/ business associates may prefer one over the other. Younger patients are much more likely to email or text than use the phone to call. They expect things to be available to them online. For a healthcare practice not being able to communicate with this generation in their preferred mode of communication, would mean losing these patients to another practice that does communicate electronically with them. Yet we find most healthcare practices hesitant to use email to communicate with their patients, or even worse, using unsecured email to transmit confidential patient information. They choose not offer their patients the opportunity to communicate via email even though that may lead to increased patient satisfaction and less time spent returning phone calls and playing phone tag.
I know from discussions with physicians that they would gladly use technologies that save them time, make them more productive, and enhance quality of patient care. So why are practices hesitant to use a secure HIPAA compliant messaging solution to communicate with their patients? Possible reasons could be that they:
- Feel that providers would get bombarded with too many emails from patients, taking up more of their time.
- Are concerned about email security and HIPAA compliance requirements.
- Think that the technology is too costly and difficult to implement.
- Believe that the implementation headaches and potential negatives are not worth the perceived benefits.
- Are overwhelmed with the numerous choices in the market place and do not have the time to research the vendor solutions.
- Do not have time to get their patients in to the new email system.
Many of the above reasons are perfectly valid and understandable. However, these reasons should not be a deal breaker. Technology implementation need not be a nightmare and when done correctly can be extremely beneficial to the practice in the long run. Secure email communication can be set up with relative ease with proper planning. A healthcare practice should consider the following before implementation:
- Patient interest in using email/secure messaging- Survey your patients and find out how many have access to email/text and would like to communicate electronically.
- Email policy - Determine what information can be provided or what patient situations can be addressed via email. Decide appropriate provider response times for replying to patient emails. Document your email policy. Clearly communicate your email policy with patients and staff.
- Consider assigning a triage person to screen patient emails as they come in, address general patient concerns and/or forward the email to the appropriate provider.
- Consider posting a frequently asked questions knowledge base on the practice website and refer patients to that site. This will reduce the time spent by staff answering common patient questions.
- Consider the help of a healthcare IT consultant who understands the HIPAA security requirements and can facilitate the implementation process if you don’t have the time/ expertise. Consultants can help you identify the right technology solutions for your practice needs, help select the right vendor, negotiate with the vendor on your behalf and manage the implementation process.