Improving Clinical Patient Conversations with 2-Way, HIPAA Compliant Messaging

Texting with patients for one-to-one clinical conversations using SMS is a great way to violate HIPAA—leaving clinicians and providers to play phone tag with patients. This is because relaying information about treatments, diagnosis, medications, or answering patient questions by phone is deemed ok, while texting just isn’t secure. However, phone tag is problematic for both patients and staff— it ties up clinical resources in a manual back-and-forth that leaves patients anxiously watching their phones for returned calls while screening out scammers and robocalls [1] . It also distracts clinicians from patients and families that are present in the clinic, stretching resources and making it more difficult to provide all patients the high-touch care and attention they deserve when seeking medical care. Phone tag can result in delayed care, missed communication, and frustrated patients who choose to seek care in the ER, urgent care, or retail clinics.  

Security is a mandate, but phone tag has got to go. 

At Relatient, we understand not every conversation is clinical and text/SMS may seem ok to use when patients consent, but it really isn’t. Every customer on our platform has the ability to text back and forth with patients, but when it comes to sharing PHI, SMS isn’t worth the risk. That is why Relatient is equipping providers, clinicians, and administrative healthcare staff with Secure Messaging, a HIPAA compliant messaging service that can be initiated within a text conversation, to enable clinical conversations.  

Secure Messaging is the latest addition to Relatient’s suite of flexible, high-powered patient engagement tools. To ensure patient privacy while maintaining the convenience of text-like communication, Secure Messaging uses two-factor authentication to verify patient identity before patients can send and receive messages, images, and attachments. Unlike many other secure chat services that require patients to login to a portal, Relatient Secure Messaging uses a text to alert patients they have a secure message and doesn’t require an account to access. The timing couldn’t be better, because while patients are known to answer a text message within 3 minutes, 90% of the time, patients responding to calls or voicemails continues to decline rapidly. 

Medical practices, hospitals, and health systems have been utilizing automation to push text communication like appointment reminders to patients for years; now they can complement that technology with the high-touch communication patients want in a way that offers both privacy and convenience. With Secure Messaging, patients can text their physician’s office without having to excuse themselves or search for privacy while clinicians can answer questions quickly and more efficiently and move on to attend to other patients. Secure, mobile-friendly messaging also helps clinic staff to connect with patients faster, so there’s still time in the day to find open spots in the schedule, send prescriptions before pharmacies close, or make necessary referrals. It also frees staff to focus on patients who are in the clinic—reserving phone conversations for complicated cases or patient interactions.  

Here are a few ways early adopters are using HIPAA compliant messaging to improve outcomes: 

Use Case #1: Streamlining and Optimizing Phone Triage

Using a secure and private messaging solution, like Secure Messaging, can help end the misery of phone tag by giving patients a private, discreet, and secure way to share their health concerns and receive guidance without having to find a hiding spot for those conversations. Patients can even share images for this purpose, giving providers and clinicians better information than would be available through voice communication. The “phone nurse”, as this role is often referred to, can increase the speed in which patient questions get resolved, more quickly elevate higher risk or higher acuity patients, and eliminate the backlog of patients who’s questions have to wait until the following day. 

Use Case #2: Simplifying Scheduling Changes

Patients who are running late, hit traffic, have a last-minute conflict, or can’t find the office can easily text to notify the office of their hold-up and give them the ability to respond. It’s also an easy way for patients to initiate an appointment, either for themselves or someone they care for. If a text conversation with a patient changes course and requires PHI, staff can quickly change to Secure Messaging without sending the patient to an app or portal.

Use Case #3: Providing Better Follow-Up Care

For patients that leave with a new prescription, are awaiting lab results, have a condition that could improve or worsen quickly over the next few days, or that simply need extra monitoring, following-up over the phone can be difficult because the odds are high that communication will reach voicemail and the patient won’t respond. Because Secure Messaging mimics an SMS experience, it increases the likelihood that outreach will be received and yield a response. Clinicians can use HIPAA compliant messaging to share test results and get quick updates from patients and respond to patients quickly. With the right information, staff can change prescriptions and schedule new appointments—a physician could even make the decision to admit a patient to an inpatient facility with the information a patient shares with them via Secure Messaging.

Early adopters are finding text conversations to be a natural extension of their practice’s reach, expanding access and connecting with patients in a way that is intuitive. Relatient’s Secure Messaging allows healthcare organizations of all sizes—single-provider practices up to large, enterprise health systems—to engage patients in natural, 2-way conversations while ensuring PHI is safe and secure so they can know they’re in compliance with government and regulatory requirements at the same time. And because Secure Messaging works with most EHR’s and practice management systems implementation can be smooth and timely.

[1] Not to mention, when the phone rings, patients search awkwardly for secluded places or excuse themselves from meetings, work situations, and social settings so they can have personal, medical conversations in private.