Platform for Docs to Text, Email Patients Securely

At least half of patients want to receive regular texts and emails from their physician as a means to help them stay healthy; however, the vast majority of doctors don't want the hassle.

The phrase “in sickness and in health” has long been a mainstay in the exchange of marriage vows. Now, the findings of a recent survey sponsored by Seattle-based Varolii Corporation indicate that phrase has added importance to physicians and their patients.

According to the survey, 70% of respondents indicate their physician has never checked on them when they weren’t ill as a means to help them stay healthy. And, 50% believe that receiving regular texts and emails from their physician are part of the solution.

Easy fix, yes? Not really, says Michael Nusbaum, MD, founder of Giffen Solutions, a leading electronic health communications messaging company.

“The interesting caveat is that 70-80% of doctors don’t want to be texted or emailed,” he says.

The key, Nusbaum says, is finding a balance between those two disparate statistics.

Striking a balance

Nusbaum explains that mobile cell phone use has exploded, and health care systems have been quick to adopt the technology. All too often, however, physicians and providers are unknowingly answering patients via text message or cell phone in a non-HIPAA compliant manner. Nusbaum has experienced this dilemma first hand.

“In the past I was guilty of violating the new HIPAA regulations because I gave out my cell phone number to patients,” he explains. “I allowed patients to actually call me and text me — clearly a HIPAA violation.”

Nusbaum recognized that he needed to find a solution quickly.

The solution was MedXCom Patient, a cloud-based patient portal and iPhone app that allows patients to store and continually update their health profile. The latest feature to the platform is MedXCom, an iPhone and Android app that enables patients to securely text message with their doctors.

“The insurance companies should actually embrace this,” Nusbaum says. “If you think about it, the reimbursement rates are so low for telephone consultations right now it’s basically the equivalent of a co-pay. So, why not just allow a simple question which doesn’t really need an office visit to be done in electronic format?”

Saving dollars and time

What MedXCom does is allow those questions to be asked. Nusbaum calls it “Facebook for health care,” only done through a HIPAA-compliant process. Physicians actually sign a HIPAA form online, allowing them to participate in their patients’ health care. Doing so, Nusbaum says, saves time and money.

“Just last weekend a patient sent me a picture of her wound,” he explains. “Well, a picture speaks a thousand words. It would have taken her a long time to describe that wound; all she had to do was take a picture of it. I knew what was going on and I prescribed her an antibiotic. This issue was resolved. In the past, I would have sent her to the emergency room because the office was closed. And it would have cost a lot of money to do that.”

As for physicians being concerned that they don’t have the time to respond to the anticipated onslaught of patient emails and phone calls, Nusbaum says he has never experienced that deluge.

“I’d say that probably 99% of patients, knowing that they have that kind of access to me or to their physician, actually don’t take advantage of it,” he says. “They only use it when it’s necessary.”

The system also includes a computer-based patient navigator, which Nusbaum says examines a patient’s medical history, or the patient’s family history, and makes recommendations for screening examinations. For example, if a patient’s 40th birthday is approaching and they have two “first-degree relatives” with a history of colon cancer, the system will recommend the patient have their first colonoscopy at age 40 rather than waiting until age 50, thereby addressing the Varolii survey’s findings that patients want their physicians to contact them proactively.

Signing on

Nusbaum says the first step for physicians is to go to MedXCom.com and they can register for free messaging. There’s also the opportunity for physicians to have the entire MedXCom system take over their telecommunications, which basically takes over their answering service.

“There’s an on-call calendar, there’s a voice component to it, all the calls are recorded, they’re transcribed, and they can be shared with a patient,” he says. “There’s risk mitigation on the physician end, in that a lot of malpractice carriers are providing discounts for physicians using our system.”

The entire system is subscription based, but as Nusbaum points out, “It certainly costs less than a live operator would cost.”

The patient app, downloadable at MedXPatient.com, is completely free, and patients can invite physicians who are not currently on the system to join.