Secure technology gives providers new options to successfully support patient outcomes
by Dr. Galina Datskovsky, CRM, FAI

In the health care industry, patient care is the number one priority. Whether a patient is undergoing a routine medical procedure, managing a chronic illness or needs ongoing care due to a disability—the quality and effectiveness of any patient’s care is a collaborative effort. As such, care teams—from doctors and nurses to the patients and their caregivers—need the ability to communicate efficiently, effectively, privately and securely to ensure the highest level of service. Unfortunately, the ability to have these critical conversations on demand is an ongoing challenge, particularly when it comes to home health care. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 4.9 million patients received homecare from 2013 to 2014. That’s 4.9 million people who relied on home visits from health care professionals for everything from infusion therapy to physical therapy, or in-home caretakers to provide around-the-clock assistance. If the status of a patient at home changes and it is difficult for these health care professionals in the field to communicate with their team for feedback, collaboration is delayed and the patient may not receive the care they need in a timely manner.

The Communication Challenge

Unfortunately, communication and effective collaboration is not always as easy as it should be. As an example, it is unlikely that a doctor, nurse and caretaker can connect easily by phone as they are constantly on the move, whether meeting with patients at the hospital or traveling between homes. Pagers also leave much to be desired when a rapid response is required. To try and help streamline this communication issue, many health care organizations have adopted tools such as secure communication portals and email encryption. However, these alternatives can result in delays to needed responses. As one might expect, in order to overcome the communication challenge without added complexity, many health care professionals have turned to text messaging, either via native SMS text or through texting applications. In fact, worldwide text has outgrown email as the tool of choice due to its immediate response rates. Text messages have a 98 percent open rate and a 45 percent response rate, while email has a 22 percent open rate and 6 percent response rate. Estimates show that roughly 95 percent of health care professionals are already using smartphones and tablets in the workplace, whether sanctioned or not. While texting is an efficient and effective communication alternative, patient care teams must ensure they are using apps that provide features to maintain privacy and confidentiality as well as meet HIPAA compliance. In order to avoid fines and to ensure patient information security, health care organizations are turning to secure enterprise messaging applications.

Enterprise Messaging Apps

A secure messaging app includes features that place the emphasis on patient privacy. Sender controls offered by enterprise messaging apps are essential for homecare teams to ensure that messages cannot be forwarded, copied, pasted or otherwise shared with an unauthorized outside party. These controls also guarantee that screenshots of messages or photos cannot be taken and used for a purpose other than the intended one. With the proper controls in place, homecare teams can communicate with physicians, transmit notes, photos of wounds and securely send patient information, such as insurance cards and social security numbers, without unintended propagation. Not only are messages encrypted for security purposes, but many of these messaging apps also provide ephemerality, or the ability to set an expiration date for messages on the mobile devices. Ephemerality ensures that no data remains on the device or the message server. If a homecare nurse needs to take a photo of a patient’s wound to send back to the hospital for example, the image will expire from the device based on a period of time of inactivity. This alleviates any concerns that a copy of the photo could be compromised should the nurse’s phone be lost or stolen. In fact, approximately 96 percent of health care organizations say they have had a security incident involving a lost or stolen device. In addition, if the organization uses a secure, ephemeral messaging app and this situation does arise, the owner has the capability to shred all remaining unexpired data from the device on demand, making it inaccessible. Crucial to the health care industry and patient care is support of information governance and compliance. As messages are sent between various members of the care team, a single copy is saved and stored to a patient file so a complete patient record is available through the patient care system. Having a secure, ephemeral enterprise messaging app that allows for patient information to be stored in a secure repository of record means that home health care organizations can meet HIPAA compliance standards while removing the risk of messages remaining on mobile devices.

Secure Collaboration and the Patient Journey

Streamlining communication and collaboration for patient care also empowers the patient to play a powerful role in their own care. With an easy-to-use application, patients and their family members can securely communicate directly with health care professionals. For example, if a patient is concerned about a new symptom that presents itself, rather than wait for a nurse to stop by and express their concern, they can communicate directly with their doctors or the nurse. Likewise, doctors can communicate directly with patients to encourage behaviors that aid their care and quality of life, such as reminders to take medication or simply to check on their status. In a recent clinical trial conducted at Johns Hopkins University, it was determined that personalized text messages that encourage people to increase their physical activity or that congratulate them for having done so makes a significant difference in the patient’s well-being. In their study of 48 individuals, those who received nudges via text message were twice as likely to walk farther and reach a preset goal of 10,000 steps daily. When patients are at home, the personal touch and direct communication with doctors can positively impact their overall care and well-being.

Empowering Home Health Teams

Patient care is a collaborative effort and it requires accurate, secure and efficient communication. By enabling quick and protected communication between all members of a patient’s care team, including the patient themselves, secure enterprise messaging apps enable high-quality efficient care. Specifically, when a patient relies on homecare, these apps provide a quick, secure and compliant way for the home-based care team to coordinate with health care staff at the hospital, doctor’s office, physical or occupational therapist's and pharmacies, as well as the patient and patient’s family. Bottom line—with enhanced communication, comes superior patient care.