Healthcare News & Insights

Texting patients can improve care – but is it secure?

Electronic communication with patients can help healthcare providers improve satisfaction and promote wellness. But are doctors using the best communication methods? 

Patients want to receive emails, text messages and other electronic communication from their doctors, according to a recent survey conducted by vendor Varolii Corporation.

Most (80%) of the patients surveyed agreed it was important to hear from doctors when they were well, in order to receive reminders, information and encouragement to keep them healthy. And half of survey respondents said they’d like to receive that communication in the form of a text messages, email or smartphone app.

Health programs taking advantage of those electronic communication methods are effective at improving care, according to a presentation at the recent 2012 Medicine 2.0 Congress in Boston. For example, researchers from George Washington University in Washington, DC, developed a text-based smoking cessation called Text2Quit.

Currently used by 10,000 individuals, Text2Quit allows people to sign up online and set their own date to quit smoking. The program begins sending messages several weeks before the quit date, offering encouragement and data tailored based on information the user provides. For example, some messages calculate how much money users have saved on cigarettes, and others remind them of the reasons they gave for quitting. Participants can also send Text2Quit a message and get a response when one isn’t scheduled.

Text2Quit has had positive results, according to researchers. Program participants were about 50% more likely to have kept away from cigarettes after one month compared to a control group.

Better communication methods?

While that kind of automated program has been successful, some experts have warned doctors against using text messages and emails to communicate with patients. According to a recent panel at the CMIO Summit on Transforming Healthcare through Evidence-Based Medicine, those communication channels may not be secure enough to send health information and could open up providers to liability issues.

A better alternative, panelists warned, is to use a secure patient portal to send messages back and forth so that security of protected health information isn’t placed in the hands of an email or cellular service provider.

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