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Addressing Common Patient Frustrations: Wait Times

Posted on April 11, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jim Higgins, Founder & CEO at Solutionreach. You can follow him on twitter: @higgs77

Experts agree that it is critically important that practices keep their finger on the pulse of patient satisfaction—and one of the best ways to do this is through patient surveys. However, the question remains: what should a practice do if a survey reveals there is a problem?

It is of utmost importance that any issue found in a survey be studied and addressed. Interestingly, the vast majority of patient irritants do not relate to the quality of care at all. In fact, a study in the Journal of Medical Practice Management found that 96 percent of all patient complaints are related to customer service rather than poor care. Some of the biggest complaints include:

  • Excessive waiting times
  • Inadequate communication
  • Disorganized operations

Over the next few months, we will be digging in to each of these topics in depth. Today we will start with the top frustration of patients: excessive wait times. These long wait times, often associated with poor time management, are also some of the major criticisms reported by respondents of the Patient Provider Relationship study. Check out some of these numbers:

  • Sixty-eight percent of patients say that the wait times in their medical office are not reasonable.
  • Sixty-six percent say that they have to wait too long to schedule an appointment.
  • Sixty-eight percent say they feel like messages are not returned in a timely manner.

The problem is only getting worse. Average practice wait times have risen by 30 percent since 2014. Unfortunately, the common patient response to long wait times is simply to change practices. Around one in three patients say they are likely to find a new medical practice in the next couple of years. So how do you reduce long wait times?

  1. Understand how long is too long. Studies have found that about 20 minutes is the maximum amount of time a patient is willing to wait before becoming frustrated. Unfortunately, it is estimated that 53 percent of physicians say patients at their practice typically wait for more than 20 minutes. If you are not sure where you stand in terms of wait time, carefully track your wait times, both in the waiting room and the exam room. There are a variety of programs and apps that can do this for you. Or if you’d prefer to go old-school, you could acquire a supply of timers. When a patient checks in or is taken to the exam room, simply press the START button. Keep an eye on the timers and recognize when a patient has waited longer than is optimal.
  2. Provide clear communication. One of the easiest fixes for long wait times is often overlooked—communication. Eighty-six percent of patients say that if they were told in advance about a long wait time that they would feel less frustrated. So make sure to let patients know if the doctor is running behind schedule. You can also consider shooting off a quick text message to incoming patients if your office is running very late. If you are tracking wait times, make sure to acknowledge the inconvenience and apologize when the wait goes longer than 20 minutes. This would minimize frustration for nearly 70 percent of patients.
  3. Improve front desk workflow. Melanie Michael, lead author of a study that looked at interventions for lowering patient wait times found that one of the critical factors in reducing wait times was the front desk management. She noted, “[At one practice], we found that these people were trying to answer phones, field questions from patients in the waiting room, check patients in, secure insurance info, and many other tasks.” Automation of these tasks enables practices to get patients seen by the physician faster and more efficiently. Appointment reminders, scheduling, and check-in are all processes that can (and should) be automated.

Wait times are directly correlated to the satisfaction of patients. If your patient survey finds that people are feeling annoyed about the wait at your office, make changes now. If you wait too long, you may find you have no patients left.

Solutionreach is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. As the leading provider of patient relationship management solutions, Solutionreach is dedicated to helping practices improve the patient experience while saving time for providers and staff.

Easy Tips to Understand and Leverage Patient Survey Results

Posted on March 14, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jim Higgins, Founder & CEO at Solutionreach. You can follow him on twitter: @higgs77

Multiple studies have shown that surveys are critical to the economic health of medical practices. Experts say that using surveys to improve the patient experience can be a strategic differentiator for practices.

To read more about the increasing role of surveys in reimbursement, profitability, and quality care, check out this post from last month.

Once you’ve started sending out regular patient surveys and getting consistent responses, it’s time to take action. In order to get the most out of a survey, it is critical to analyze the responses and implement changes based on the results. Here are a few tips to get started.

Figure out how many survey responses are needed.

Any time a survey is sent, there must be enough responses received to have a “statistically significant” result. Obviously, if only one or two patients respond to a survey, those answers will not be a true picture of how patients view a practice. What is considered “statistically significant?” This will vary by practice size.

Start by finding out how many active patients visit your practice—for now, don’t count any inactive files. Of course, it would be amazing if every single patient responded to the survey, but that is pretty near impossible. Instead, each practice must decide what margin of error is acceptable to them personally. The greater margin of error found to be acceptable, the fewer responses needed to be statistically significant. For example, if a 10 percent margin of error is okay with you, only 100 out of 3,000 patients need to respond. If, however, a three percent margin of error makes you more comfortable, you would need 810 responses out of 3,000.

Use the following table as a basic rule of thumb when deciding how many responses are needed:

Leverage technology to calculate the hard numbers.

In order to easily understand survey results, responses need to be converted into percentages or averages (depending on question type) and formatted in a way that makes it easy to compare responses. For example, it doesn’t mean much that 281 respondents said that they had a poor experience. If, however, that number is converted into 40 percent that had a poor experience, it is much easier to recognize a problem. Survey answers should be imported into a system that analyzes the results and converts these into simple statistics. Fortunately, it is common for the platform used to originally send the survey to do this automatically. Many will also include trends over time, highlighting if problems are worse or better during certain times of the year. If the survey-sending platform does not include an analysis tool, there are a huge number of programs (including free tools) that can accomplish this task. Even programs like excel work perfectly fine for this.

Take action.

Great—you’re starting to get a feel for what patients think. But now what? Far too many practices collect incredibly valuable information only to sit on their hands and ignore it. But for a practice to really thrive, it is crucial to set goals and objectives based on survey results. After all, patients are communicating what they want. It’s up to you to see how you can accommodate their needs.

My favorite goal creation method can be remembered by the word SMART.

  • Specific– Select a specific goal, being as clear as possible.
  • Measurable– Decide how you will measure the success or failure of your goal.
  • Achievable – Do you have the time, money and resources to complete the goal?
  • Relevan– Not every goal will improve your business. Pick one that will make a real difference.
  • Timely  Set a realistic deadline for goal completion.

Let’s consider a real-life example. A common survey question for healthcare practices is, “How long did you wait to be seen?” If the score comes up as higher than ideal (typically more than 20 minutes), improvements are needed.

This is where SMART goal setting comes into play.

  • Specific—Set a specific goal. For instance, “Our goal is to lower wait times to 15 minutes.”
  • Measurable—Decide how to measure the result. Will you be timing the waits yourself? Will you send out a follow-up survey?
  • Achievable—Set goals that can realistically be accomplished. If your average wait time is over an hour, for example, trying to adjust that to just 15 minutes is probably not currently achievable. Try to set smaller improvements and over time you can reach your ultimate goal.
  • Relevant—Look at the goal you’ve created. Will lowering wait times improve your business? Don’t set goals that won’t really have an impact on your long-term success. In this case, reducing wait times will have a positive impact on your business so it is a relevant goal.
  • Timely— Set a realistic time frame. It probably won’t happen in a week, but you may not want it to take a year. Three months may be the right timeframe to make improvements. Check back at that point to see if you achieved your goal.

As practices consistently strive to make changes based on survey results, the patient experience will improve dramatically. Because setting specific improvement goals is so important to practice success, over the next few months I’ll be addressing some of the most common patient frustrations uncovered on surveys. I will include SMART goals to improve these frustrations and boost patient satisfaction.

Solutionreach is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. As the leading provider of patient relationship management solutions, Solutionreach is dedicated to helping practices improve the patient experience while saving time for providers and staff.

The Increasing Role of Surveys in Reimbursement, Profitability, and Quality Care

Posted on February 14, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jim Higgins, Founder & CEO at Solutionreach. You can follow him on twitter: @higgs77

Delivery of high-quality, patient-centered care has become the hallmark of the medical industry. The most commonly used indicators for measuring the quality of care are patient satisfaction and the patient experience. How patients feel about their experience is critical to overall practice success because it has been proven to impact health outcomes, patient retention, and medical malpractice claims.

The emerging standard for measuring patient satisfaction is the use of patient surveys. Patient satisfaction surveys are not only important when required for reimbursement, but also for practices focused on improving their patient-centered care (that should be everyone). A well written survey can be a very powerful and reliable tool. It can provide more information about what is going on in your practice. It demonstrates that your practice is working to improve. It shows patients that quality is your focus.

What are the key reasons that every practice should start implementing patient surveys?

Patient Surveys Increasingly Drive Reimbursement

Because both practice and hospital reimbursement are increasingly tied to health outcomes and patient satisfaction, patient surveys have become the go-to guide for improving the patient experience.

Currently, CMS (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) uses the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey to measure how patients feel about their hospital experience. They then take those results and compare them to hospitals locally, regionally and nationally and assign them a score. Those scores have been a big part of the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing program for nearly six years.

This past year, we have seen the implementation of MACRA. Under MACRA, physician and hospitals patient satisfaction scores are calculated. By 2019, these scores will impact Medicare reimbursements.

It is highly likely that this trend towards survey-based reimbursement will continue to grow. Even if your practice is not currently required to use patient satisfaction surveys for reimbursement, it is probable that you will at some point in the future. By sending out surveys now, you can get a better handle on changes that need to be made to secure high scores for future reimbursement.

Patient Surveys Increase Profitability

High patient satisfaction levels impact a practice’s profitability for reasons beyond just reimbursement. Studies have found a significant correlation between high patient satisfaction and the overall profitability of a practice. Consider this:

  • A good patient experience significantly lowers your risk of a malpractice suit. In fact, for each drop in satisfaction score, a provider is nearly 22 percent more likely to be hit by a lawsuit.
  • One surprising effect of an improved patient experience is reduced staff turnover. Because a better patient experience often involves implementing more efficient and effective processes, staff are able to work in a more pleasant environment. One provider saw their turnover rate drop 5 percent after efforts to improve the patient experience.
  • A good patient experience leads to lower patient turnover. This one is more obvious. Today’s consumer-minded patients are looking for a great experience. One study found that practices with poor patient-physician relationships are three times more likely to move to a new practice than those with good patient-physician relationships.

It’s easy to see why the use of a patient survey to track and improve the patient experience is quickly becoming best practice. As Joe Greskoviak, president and COO of Press Ganey explained, “We are seeing a shift in the way organizations look at the engagement of their patient populations. The ability to use patient experience as a competitive and strategic differentiator to gain market share is a valuable tool,” Mr. Greskoviak said.

Patient Surveys Lead to Quality Improvement

As dozens of studies have found, there is quantifiable evidence that tracking the patient experience leads to quality improvement in multiple ways. These studies have found that:

  • A good patient experience improves both prevention and disease management. In one study, diabetic patients increased their ability to self-manage their disease and, subsequently, improved their quality of life simply due to a good experience with their provider.
  • Positive patient experiences lead to a higher likelihood of care adherence for the patient. This is especially true for those with chronic conditions who meet regularly with their provider.
  • Patients who have a good patient experience and a positive view of their provider have better health outcomes compared to patients that have poor patient experiences. Heart attack patients who were highly satisfied with their practice saw significant improvements over their less satisfied peers one year post-attack.

Understanding how your patients feel through patient satisfaction surveys is an invaluable tool. These surveys can be as important to the success as your healthcare credentials. If implemented and used properly, a patient survey can help you increase profitability, healthcare outcomes, and reimbursement.

Solutionreach is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. As the leading provider of patient relationship management solutions, Solutionreach is dedicated to helping practices improve the patient experience while saving time for providers and staff. Learn more about the Patient-Provider relationship survey here.

5 Ways to Keep Patients from Feeling like a Number

Posted on January 17, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jim Higgins, Founder & CEO at Solutionreach. You can follow him on twitter: @higgs77

Think about the last time you felt upset at work. What was the root cause? Did you feel ignored? Overlooked? Unappreciated? If so, you are not alone. Studies have found that two out of three workers feel unappreciated at work and 65 percent would prefer a better boss over a pay raise. Everyone wants to feel that they matter. It’s simply part of our nature as social beings. This need to feel valued is not restricted to the work environment. In fact, studies find that it extends far beyond the office walls to retail, service, and—yes—healthcare experiences.

The Patient-Provider Relationship Study confirmed this—noting that practices can no longer rely on their excellent clinical care to keep patients coming back. Patient dissatisfaction is at an all-time high, prompting patients across the generations to switch physicians.

Between 43 and 44 percent of millennials and Gen Xers will switch providers in the next few years. It’s not just the younger generations, even baby boomers are restless—20 percent are likely to find a new physician in the next three years. While patient dissatisfaction is a complex issue with multiple solutions, one of the easiest and most effective treatments also has the lowest cost to practices—making patients feel valued.

Here are five simple tools a provider can use to help patients feel they are important:

  1. Acknowledge. Nothing makes patients feel like they are on the conveyor belt of medical care more than being ignored. There is a reason the grocery king, Walmart, pays to have people simply greet you as you enter and leave the store. Humans like to be acknowledged. Consider having different front desk staff assigned as the office “greeter” along with their regular duties. A quick, “Welcome John! I’ll be right with you” along with a genuine smile can go a surprisingly long way towards patient satisfaction.
  2. Remember. Try to remember small things about each patient. One way is through use of their name. Another great time to show a patient you remember them is on their birthday. Eighty five percent of Americans say that they feel special when others celebrate their birthday. It is easy to automate a personalized birthday email or text message that keeps you connected outside of the office.
  3. Respond. Medical offices are busy. There’s no way around it. But when a patient reaches out, it is important to respond as quickly as possible. The ability to two-way text with patients is handy here because it allows you to acknowledge (see #1) a message from an out-of-office patient while still being present with patients in the office.
  4. Listen. It can be easy to brush past comments or questions from patients. In fact, research shows that the average patient is interrupted within 18 seconds of their visit. Instead of assuming that you know what a patient is going to say, wait patiently until they finish speaking. Devote your energy to looking at them and focusing on them while they talk.
  5. Thank. Patients are the reason you are in business. Every position in a medical office is made possible because of patients. During the hectic everyday rush, it can be easy to forget this simple fact. Try shooting off a personal “thank you” email or text (or even a handwritten note). The good news is that research shows that showing gratitude not only improves the well-being of those you thank, but your own well-being as well.

It is often the small things that can make the biggest difference to patient satisfaction. In the era of consumer-centric patients, it is important to help patients feel like more than just another number. Following these five simple steps will bring practices closer to that goal.

Solutionreach is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. As the leading provider of patient relationship management solutions, Solutionreach is dedicated to helping practices improve the patient experience while saving time for providers and staff. Learn more about the Patient-Provider relationship survey here.

4 Reasons Patient Texting Is Taking Center Stage

Posted on December 14, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jim Higgins, Founder & CEO at Solutionreach. You can follow him on twitter: @higgs77

Communication is one of the most time consuming tasks for medical practices. Hundreds of patients need to be contacted on a regular basis. Keeping up can be a challenge. Failing to do so can be damaging to the practice. Modern patients have adopted a consumer-based mentality and are quick to switch practices when it does not live up to their expectations. Communication methods that used to be regarded as personal and engaging are now felt to be invasive and outdated. The stats back it up:

  • Nineteen percent of people never check their voicemail.
  • Ninety percent of cell phone users ignore incoming phone calls.
  • Seventy eight percent of emails are never opened.

What do patients want instead? Texting.

The “Why” Behind the Success of Texting

Today’s patients are already savvy texters in their everyday lives and expect to be able to do the same with their medical practices. The Patient-Provider Relationship Study found that 79 percent of patients would like to receive text messages from their doctor and 73 percent want to send a text to their doctor’s office. In response, more and more offices are turning to texting. Why is texting so critical to practice success?

  1. It’s faster for everyone. The average text message takes just four seconds to send. Compare that to a phone call, in which people talk for at least two minutes. Those two minutes don’t include the time spent dialing, waiting for an answer, leaving a message, or following up. Experts estimate that a phone call to schedule an appointment—from start to finish—takes 8.1 minutes. Those minutes add up. For example, if your practice receives 50 incoming phone calls each day, even at just two minutes per call, that’s almost two hours spent on the phone. Add to that outbound calls and the hours build even more. Text messages, on the other hand, take only seconds to type and send.
  2. It improves health outcomes.research study by JAMA Internal Medicine reviewed data from 16 randomized clinical trials and found that texting can double the odds of chronic illness patients sticking to medication adherence. When using text messages as ways to remind patients of appointments and medication needs, they resoundingly respond.
  3. It keeps the schedule full. A text message system can be completely automated—meaning it can send notifications as often as desired. This ensures lower rates of patient no-shows. In addition, when a last-minute cancellation happens, texting is a great way to fill those spots. Patients who want to be seen soon can be put on a waiting list. When someone cancels their appointment, an automated text can be sent to each patient on the waiting list letting them know an appointment has become available. This text takes far less time than calling each person on the waiting list and hoping to reach an available patient in time to rebook the appointment. Your schedule stays full and your revenue increases.
  4. It increases in-office engagement. Freeing up so much time allows front office staff to spend more time where they are needed most—engaging in compassionate care with the patient right in front of them. Extensive research has found that patient-based, compassionate care leads to lower stress levels and burnout for healthcare providers and better health outcomes and satisfaction for patients. This type of care is only made possible, however, when staff members are not talking on the phone all day. Texting frees up this time.

Texting is the norm in almost every aspect of our society, and it is quickly becoming the expectation in the healthcare industry as well. It offers patients an easy way to communicate with your practice and still provide great service to the patients you are serving in your office. Your patients are happy with the way your practice communicates, you reduce the amount of time spent on phone calls, and—most importantly—your practice continues to grow.

Solutionreach is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. As the leading provider of patient relationship management solutions, Solutionreach is dedicated to helping practices improve the patient experience while saving time for providers and staff. Learn more about the Patient-Provider relationship survey here.

Patients May like Their Physician…But That Doesn’t Mean They’ll Stay

Posted on November 8, 2017 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jim Higgins, Founder & CEO at Solutionreach. You can follow him on twitter: @higgs77

Medical providers are dealing with a more impatient, demanding patient base than ever before. Armed with research, awareness, and a plethora of online data, today’s consumer patients treat their search for a medical provider in much the same way they would any purchasing decision.

They weigh the pros and cons of each provider, evaluating how each practice would fit their lifestyle and then make a decision.

Unfortunately, that is not the end of the process. Even after a patient chooses a specific practice, they are not even close to becoming loyal patients.

Smooth processes trump provider loyalty

It often surprises medical practices to discover that retaining patients has less and less to do with the medical competence of the office. Today, it may not be enough for a patient to simply like their physician.

For busy patients, the road to loyalty goes directly through the processes and procedures of an office. Studies back this up. Consider this. Sixty-one percent of patients say they are willing to visit an urgent care clinic instead of their primary care clinic for non-urgent issues. This is true regardless of whether they like their primary care provider or not.

The #1 reason they prefer urgent care? Because of difficulty scheduling appointments and long wait times with a primary care physician. According to a study by Merrit Hawkins, wait times have increased by 30 percent since 2014. Patients have noticed.

These long wait times were also noted as one of the key reasons patients will switch practices according to respondents of the Patient Provider Relationship study:

  • Sixty-eight percent say that wait times in their medical office are not reasonable.
  • Sixty-six percent say that they have to wait too long to schedule an appointment.
  • Sixty-eight percent say they feel like messages are not returned in a timely manner.

Reducing wait times is crucial to patient retention

In order to increase patient retention levels, practices must find ways to offset the frustration of long wait times. Consider implementing these three methods of wait-time optimization.

  1. Self-scheduling. It is common for doctors to have calendars booked out months in advance. This can cause patient frustration and turnover. When practices allow patients to schedule themselves, however, this frustration is minimized. With self-scheduling, they can quickly see which doctors are available and when. Since 41 percent of patients would be willing to see another doctor in the practice to reduce their wait, this is a simple way to optimize your scheduling without sacrificing patient experience.
  2. Communication. There are times when long waits are unavoidable. This is where communication is key. Studies show that 80 percent of patients would be less frustrated if they were kept aware of the issue. When you know an appointment is going to be delayed, send out an email or text letting them know.
  3. Texting. If your patient has a question, texting can save them a lot of time. Research shows that it takes just 4 seconds to send the average text message. Compare that to the several minutes it takes to make a phone call. Factor in playing phone tag and you’ve saved both time and headaches. Unfortunately, the Patient-Provider Relationship Study found that while 73 percent of patients would like to be able to be able to send a text message to their doctor’s office, just 15 percent of practices have that ability. Practices in that 15 percent will stand out from their competitors.

In this era of consumer-driven behavior, practices need to prioritize ways to create smooth processes for patients. Medical offices should look at ways to optimize their processes to reduce frustration and wait times for patients.

Solutionreach is a proud sponsor of Healthcare Scene. As the leading provider of patient relationship management solutions, Solutionreach is dedicated to helping practices improve the patient experience while saving time for providers and staff. Learn more about the Patient-Provider relationship survey here.

The Importance of Communication in Healthcare and Thoughts on How To Do It Right

Posted on December 23, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

A while back I had the chance to sit down with 4 healthcare experts to talk about healthcare communication. The panel consisted of:

  • Mandi Bishop, Chief Evangelist and Co-Founder of Aloha Health
  • Jessica Johnson, Director of Operations, Health Transformation at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Population Health Management
  • Ethan Bechtel, CEO at OhMD
  • Nathan Larson, Chief Experience Officer at ImagineCare
  • John Lynn, Founder of HealthcareScene.com

We had a wide ranging conversation about the importance of communication in healthcare and how to do it more effectively. This is a topic that should be of interest to all of us. Watch the full video conversation below:

Happy Holidays! What more could you want this holiday weekend than some great discussion from amazing people?

The Evolution of Communication in Healthcare

Posted on May 12, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The following is a guest blog post by Erik Kangas, Founder of LuxSci.

Thanks to technological breakthroughs, communication in healthcare has evolved by leaps and bounds from the old days of paper filing systems, faxes, and phone calls. Although those methods are still widely used, there are faster ways to keep patients in touch with their medical practitioners, doctors, and nurses. Yet with a multitude of benefits come new risks: data breaches, unencrypted messages, and willful neglect that could bring about serious penalties from HIPAA. In order to fully take advantage of all that technology has to offer, the healthcare industry needs to know proper usage policies and to enforce adherence to HIPAA regulations. We might not be in the age of pagers anymore, but that just means that more precautions practitioners need to embrace the newly evolving world of healthcare communication.

Let’s take a look at how these methods of communication have changed over the years and what it all means for the security of ePHI.

Pagers
Anyone involved in the healthcare sector has surely encountered a pager at some point in time. Healthcare is one of the last industries to use this aging technology, but messaging systems that are easier and faster to respond are slowly replacing them. With so many smartphones and devices that can instantly let you know whether there’s an emergency, there’s less reason to carry around a separate bulky pager.

An article at HealthITSecurity has this to say about pagers: “Communicating internally via pagers could still have some benefits, but there are now secure messaging capabilities that can assist with routine health issues, address patient questions or concerns, help monitor patient conditions, while also ensuring that patients can properly manage their own conditions.” In other words, with technology that’s so much quicker and more efficient, it might be worth finally letting go of the beeper in your pocket and switching to something that can do everything a pager can and more.

Pagers may not be as efficient as current tech, but certain organizations still believe they serve a purpose, especially critical messaging.

Email
Email has become increasingly important in healthcare, increasing the scope of everyone’s efforts toward protecting patient privacy. Explained in this whitepaper about HIPAA and email, this security applies not only to personal information, but all Protected Health Information (PHI) –including a patient’s administrative, financial, and clinical information. Any health information related to an identifiable individual that is transmitted or maintained via email, or another medium, falls under HIPAA’s definition of PHI. That’s a huge amount of information that needs safeguarding if you want to continue using email to transmit healthcare data.

Ensuring that data remains encrypted on laptops, desktop computers, and all other devices is key to staying HIPAA compliant. While encryption can be costly to implement, it’s worth it to keep patients’ PHI (and other data) secure – and without it, an organization risks paying monumentally more in fines, in the case of a data security breach.

Given that data breaches frequently and increasingly occur in the healthcare sector, organizations need to ensure the continued safety of their patients’ data for both financial and personal reasons.

It’s also a wise idea to sign up with a security company that can handle the HIPAA compliancy of your inbound and outbound emails, as well as the security of your network as a whole. However, it’s still up to you to train your staff, review your HIPAA security policies, and keep a copy of the HIPAA Business Association Agreement that you signed with the security company.

Text Messages
Texting is pervasive as a method of healthcare communication, including using text messages to confirm appointments or deliver lab results to anxious patients. There are also plenty of texts exchanged between doctors and nurses in hospital environments, with many messages containing some form of patient information. All these transmissions fall under HIPAA regulations, and it’s very easy to unintentionally text patient data that could be intercepted, sent unencrypted, or stored in an external location like the cloud.

Sending health information via text is a clear HIPAA violation – even with seemingly harmless messages, like appointment reminders. The only case in which texting health information may not violate HIPAA is when the text is sent to a patient who has preemptively signed the proper consent form. Without patient consent and proper documentation, an organization can be fined up to $50,000 per text message, if the messages are found to be in violation of HIPAA’s rules. That’s a massive penalty for any organization.

As with email, it’s important to make sure that you encrypt and decrypt text messages properly, whether through common carriers, specialized apps for decryption, or customized programs that allow users to send and receive HIPAA-compliant messages without the worry of breaking regulation. You can send text messages securely, but it requires training and a financial cost to ensure the information stays safe and only the intended recipient reads it.

The Future of Compliant Messaging
“It’s not enough to decide it’s time to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ or secure messaging,” says HealthITSecurity. “Healthcare organizations need to realize that this communication is part of an evolutionary process, and it’s necessary to implement a system that can easily integrate with the facilities’ current capabilities.” Organizations need to recognize they can’t do compliance in various messaging systems piecemeal or from one staff member to another, they need to make it a blanket effort that ensures everyone is onboard. And while it may create a more convenient system, the legal ramifications of any slipups can more than outweigh the cost of encryption programs or specialized apps.

As long as there are security protocols in place, we’ll continue to see a growing role for secure messaging technology in healthcare.

Communication in healthcare was and is always about making services easier and more convenient for both medical staff and patients alike. With the constantly evolving nature of technology, more organizations can expand their services and share information faster than ever before. As long as HIPAA regulations and cybersecurity are in place, the healthcare sector ought to continually evaluate what new high-tech solutions work for them—and what old traditions could still have a place.

Study on the Economic Impact of Inefficient Communications in Healthcare

Posted on July 9, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Efficient communication and collaboration amongst physicians, nurses and other providers is critical to the coordination and delivery of patient care, especially given the increasingly mobile nature of today’s clinicians and the evolution of the accountable care organization (ACO) model.

For healthcare IT leadership, the ability to satisfy the clinical need for more efficient communications technologies must be balanced with safeguarding protected health information (PHI) to meet compliance and security requirements. As a result, the industry continues to rely primarily on pagers, which creates inefficiencies that can have a considerable economic and productivity impact.

To quantify this impact, the Imprivata Report on the Economic Impact of Inefficient Communications in Healthcare worked with the Ponemon Institute to survey more than 400 healthcare providers in the U.S. about the typical communications process during three clinical workflows: patient admissions, coordinating emergency response teams and patient transfers.

This report is chalk full of good information on the communication challenges in healthcare. Here’s one example chart from the report:
Wasted Time in Hospitals Due to Poor Communication

While it’s good to see that 52% think pagers are not efficient, I’d hope that the number were much higher. I think that most don’t realize how inefficient a pager really is to their organization. It’s interesting that 39% don’t allow text messaging, but it would be interesting to see how many of the 61% that allow text messaging use a secure text message solution.

I think the use of technology to facilitate communication in healthcare is one of the most exciting opportunities out there today. Certainly we have to be careful to follow HIPAA, but we need to not use HIPAA as an excuse for why we don’t use the technology to facilitate better communication.

There’s a lot more in the report that’s worth a read. I’m sure I’ll be covering more details of the report in the future.