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How to Text PHI with Patients and Stay Compliant

Posted on September 19, 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

Did you know that 73 percent of Americans say it is difficult to reach them by phone? In fact, Americans ignore 337 calls each year and that number is rising. Even if you leave a message, chances are high no one will ever hear it—80 percent of people report that they don’t even bother leaving a voicemail anymore because they don’t believe it will get listened to. More and more, phone calls are seen as invasive, outdated, or ineffective. Instead, people prefer to communicate via modern methods such as text message.

Texting Reigns as Favorite Communication Tool

We all know that pretty much everyone with a cell phone texts friends and family regularly. What is less well-known is that people would like to extend their texting habits to their healthcare provider. According to the 2017 Patient-Provider Relationship Study, 60 percent of patients want text reminders. Seven out of ten patients say they would like text communication beyond just reminders as well. It’s not just millennials. Around half of baby boomers also prefer text messages.

Unfortunately, many practices have shied away from texting or emailing patients through unsecured channels, wary of running into compliance issues. This is especially true when it comes to texting patients when those messages may include protected health information (PHI).

In fact, I suspect that if you were to poll a group of healthcare workers concerning the legality of sending PHI through unsecured text message, you would probably get answers all along the spectrum. Yes, no, maybe so? Many just don’t know.

Last March, at the HIMSS health IT conference Roger Severino, Director of the US Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the HIPAA enforcement agency, clarified the confusion.  According to Severino, providers may share PHI with patients through unsecure text messages as long as they have informed their patient that texting is not secure, asked for permission, and documented that consent.

“I think it’s empowering the patient, making sure that their data is as accessible as possible in the way they want to receive it, and that’s what we want to do.” Severino said.

Implementing Texting in a Compliant Way

This announcement was a big deal. Patients want to text you…and they want you to text them back. You significantly increase the value you offer to patients simply by giving them this option. So how does the implementation of Severino’s suggestions look in practice? Let’s say that you receive a text message from a patient named Mary asking you for some health-related information. In response, you can send something like this: “Hi Mary. I would love to chat with you more about your health. Text message is not a secure way to do that. Would you still like to continue this conversation?” If you are the one to initiate the conversation, you can send a similar message requesting permission before continuing.

Once Mary agrees and you document that permission, you are then allowed to continue the conversation without concern of violation. A key piece to remember here is that it is important that you make sure your patients are aware that texting is not secure. Then, if the patient feels uncomfortable communicating via that channel, you should move the conversation to a secure method such as a phone call, secure patient portal, or in-office visit. Remember—you are required to make patients aware of unsecured communication and receive authorization before discussing PHI on an unsecured channel.

As one final best practice, always include an opt-out message. Even if a patient has given consent in the past, you must always offer the option to discontinue the communication. This means that it is best to include a message such as “Reply STOP to opt-out” in your text messages.

In summary, if a healthcare provider would like to share PHI with a patient through regular, unsecured text messages, they must first:

  • Inform the patient that texting is not secure
  • Receive permission from the patient to continue
  • Document the patients’ consent
  • Offer an opt-out option

If you are not yet texting with patients (or only sending basic text reminders), this is a critical time to make a change. There is no other form of communication that has such a high level of adoption and engagement. Texting improves the health outcomes for patients as well as the financial outcomes for practices. With this recent clarification of policy by compliance officials, we can expect that the use of text will continue to grow dramatically as we move into the future.

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 Role of Technology in Patient Satisfaction

Posted on July 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

Over the past six months, we have been discussing the importance of understanding patient needs in order to improve their satisfaction levels. But why does it really matter if patients are happy? Happy patients are the ones who refer their friends and family. They’re are the ones leaving you stellar reviews online. Happy patients stick with you.

One of the most effective (and easiest) ways to improve the patient experience is through the use of technology. According to one study, using technology to communicate with patients increases patient satisfaction scores by around 10 percent. Not only that, but technology saves practices a huge amount of time and hassle. Here are just a few of the ways you can use technology to personalize patient experience and simplify workflow for staff.

  1. Streamline (and personalize) scheduling and check-in

The Patient-Provider Relationship Study found that two of the biggest frustrations patient have around experience are feeling like a number and difficulty with scheduling and wait times. One great way to address these issues is to offer convenient 24/7 online scheduling and electronic forms.

Two-thirds of patients think it is important to be able to schedule appointments online. And practices can make that experience even easier with the right technology. When online scheduling in integrated with your practice management system, it can identify existing versus new patients and adapt the forms so existing patients don’t have to provide information that you already have.

Consider having patient forms on the scheduling page or somewhere on your website, or send them out in an email before the appointment. Then, instead of spending 15 minutes filling out forms, patients can relax. This also allows you to spend more time speaking with each patient individually and addressing any concerns they may have.

If you have patients who don’t fill out their forms online or bring them before arriving, consider using a tablet to expedite the process. Tablets make filling out those forms faster, easier, and more accurate. Waiting to see the doctor shouldn’t feel like homework time. Do whatever you can to make this a time, instead, where you connect with your patients.

  1. Implement two-way texting

Texting is the most popular method of communication today (even 80 percent of senior citizens own a cell phone). Just like people want to text their friends and families, they also want to text you. As the Patient-Provider Relationship study found, 73 percent of patients want to text back and forth with you. With two-way texting, you can:

  • Confirm appointments
  • Coordinate care
  • Discuss appointment follow-up instructions
  • Reschedule appointments

Of course, you want to make sure you stay HIPAA compliant whenever you may be sending PHI information via text message. Make sure to use technology that offers the tools to stay compliant.

  1. Upgrade your patient appointment reminders

If you want to stay competitive in today’s healthcare world, automated appointment reminders are a must. Not only does automating your patient reminders make life a lot easier for your staff, but it ensures that no patients fall through the cracks. Make sure to ask patients which way they prefer to be contacted and use that.

Using mobile messages like text message and email for reminders is especially important in this era when people just don’t like talking on the phone. Now your patients can be stuck in a boring work meeting and still get that text message appointment reminder. It saves you a lot of time, improves productivity, and gives you the time you need to focus on what is most important—the patients in your office.

Automated messages also provide another opportunity to personalize and customize communications to each patient. Just like a postcard or phone call, they have the patient’s name, appointment time, and provider listed, but they can also contain other appointment details. Based on the appointment type, they can have instructions like remember to fast or bring your medications. The patient will feel the personalization and your practice will be able to make sure patients show up prepared.

  1. Automate patient satisfaction surveys

As we’ve discussed at length in prior blog posts, surveys can tell you a whole lot about how you and your practice are measuring up to patient expectations. The more you focus on patient happiness, the more likely you are to make it a priority. So always send out patient surveys following patient visits.

In the past, you may have asked patients to fill out paper surveys in the office. That method of collecting surveys is difficult to track, less likely to be completed, and may have answers that are skewed. Using technology to email or text your patients a survey after their appointment increases the likelihood that they will give more honest responses. It also makes it a whole lot more likely that they will be filled out.

When it comes to making patient satisfaction a priority, it’s critical to gauge if your current technology is up to the challenge. Technology can greatly improve how your patients view you and your entire practice. It can also improve the productivity and efficiency of you and your staff.

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.

4 Tricks to Help Busy Practices Stay Organized

Posted on June 13, 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

Over the past several months, we’ve been discussing how to use surveys to find out what your patients think of you—and then how to make the necessary changes. In addition, we’ve been looking at some of the most common complaints uncovered in patient surveys. These include:

* Excessive wait times (read more about that here)
* Inadequate communication (read more about that here)
* Disorganized operations

Today we are discussing the importance of keeping your practice moving smoothly and efficiently. No one likes going to a doctor’s visit only to find that they are running behind, have forgotten you were coming, or have lost your patient records. And yet that happens all too often.

Office managers and physicians are constantly balancing a huge number of tasks, including patient problems, staffing challenges, budget planning, payroll, and more. Unless you consciously strive to improve the organization and efficiency in your practice, you end up spending a whole lot of time putting out fires instead of preventing them from happening. This inevitably leads to more stress for you, lower productivity for staff, and poor satisfaction from patients.

With today’s consumer-focused patients, it’s imperative that you keep your office running like a well-oiled machine at all times. Otherwise, they are likely to simply move their business to the practice down the street instead. So here are a few tips to make juggling all the balls in your life a little easier.

  1. Schedule time for planning.
    One of the best ways to make sure you’re staying ahead of everything is to plan out your day in advance. Do you have a shipment of new supplies arriving? A new employee to train? Emails to be created? In this industry, every day brings something new. In order to make sure that nothing interferes with the patient experience, you’ve got to plan ahead. The best way to do this is to actually block off some time on your calendar where you decide what needs to be focused on—a simple 15-30 minutes each day is usually all you need. Many people find that the end of the day is a great time for this. That way you can be prepared for whatever the next day may bring.
     
  2. Batch your tasks.
    When doing your planning, give batching a try. Batching is when you select similar jobs and schedule them to be completed in one setting. Productivity experts have found that when we batch tasks, we are more focused, efficient, and, ultimately, more productive. We simply work better when we can focus on one thing at a time. Many large tasks can be batched by day. For example:

    • Mondays—Staff communication and training
    • Tuesdays—Payroll, billing, and other financial tasks
    • Wednesday– Marketing to get new patients (running ads, managing online presence, etc)
    • Thursday—Patient outreach to get returning patients (newsletters, social media, etc.)
    • Fridays—General administrative tasks and planning for the following week

     
    Of course, there will be times when things come up that need your attention. Be flexible in addressing those issues.

  3. Maximize efficiencies.
    Your practice should make life easier for patients. This means that you need to take a close look at everything from appointment scheduling to the check-in process to the way patients move within your facility to see if there can be improvements. Consider:

    1. Implementing an online scheduling tool, where patients can schedule their own appointments. This will help cut back on time on the phone.
    2. Using an automated wait list to fill last minute cancellations. Using a system to automatically send out an email or text message blast to everyone wanting to be seen sooner can free up time for staff and fill those exam rooms.
    3. Making your reception area easy to locate and clear of clutter so that patients can use it to sign forms. You may also try using a digital check-in process with a tablet or computer.
    4. Reviewing the flow of your practice. Patients should move from the waiting room to the exam room and back without much confusion. This is done best when they always move in a single direction—much like a highway.
       
  4. Take advantage of technology—but be wise.
    There are a lot of things still being done manually in an office that can be put on “auto” instead. Everything from recall to appointment reminders to birthday messaging and more can be done in a way that doesn’t require daily supervision from you. We have so many amazing technologies that can help us stay organized. Apps, calendars, to-do lists, and so on. It is important, however, to not let technology distract you. Did you know that every time you switch between tasks, you lose around 15 minutes? So every time you check email, for example, in the middle of another task, you lose precious amounts of productive time. Instead, set aside a time when you check your email (or complete other tech-related tasks) each day and stick to it. Perhaps you do it first thing in the morning, after lunch, and before leaving. That way you do not waste tons of time.

Ultimately, every practice wants to deliver exceptional patient care, and a big part of that is practice organization and efficiency. Ask yourself, “Is my office making a real effort to improve processes and make life easier for patients?” If not, implement procedures to do so. It will have a lasting, positive impact on both office staff efficiency and overall 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.