For an industry that continually uses cutting-edge technology to perform unprecedented procedures and save lives that may otherwise be lost, the healthcare industry has been remarkably slow to adopt modern communication methods – despite the fact secure messaging solutions have been widely available for years. To be fair, some of that is likely due to the fact our industry is highly regulated and several mandates have historically restricted the use of new communication tools. Luckily for everyone in the industry – from patients to physicians to nurses – change is on the horizon.
This past spring, The Joint Commission indicated that it intends to lift the five-year ban on the use of mobile messaging to send medical orders.1 This change in process will enable hospitals and physician groups to speed communications among their colleagues to ensure decisions about care are made quickly and accurately for the patient’s benefit.
How exactly can secure mobile messaging help improve care coordination? The possibilities are endless, as essentially all healthcare services and procedures require substantial internal communication and exchanges of information. For example, let’s look at three ways in which secure messaging can lead to faster orders and consults, the ability to share lab results in real time, and more efficient discharge and transfer processes.
One of the biggest delays in treatment occurs with specialist consults. Even though a primary care physician may enter a consult request into the EMR, it still requires a specialist to be notified and given context as to why this patient needs a consult. In many hospitals, this consult process can take upward of 24 hours before a patient is seen. Not only is the patient highly dissatisfied, but there is a large financial impact associated with such massive latency in the care continuum. By automating consults with secure messaging, we have found dramatic reductions in length of stay of as much as 60 percent (and reduction of cost), as well as dramatic improvement in patient satisfaction.
On the acute side, care providers are always aware of the fact that a patient’s condition can change in an instant, which often requires a physician to order new tests or procedures. Attempting to submit these requests while relying on pagers and answering services wastes precious time when it’s needed most. With secure text messaging, physicians can swiftly exchange critical information about a change in a patient’s condition – like vital signs and even sepsis – alerting the nurse and unit secretary to respond accordingly.
Soon, physicians will be able to use a messaging app to log new orders directly into the EMR, once the Joint Commission revises its rules in the fall. The ability to log orders directly into the EMR not only makes care coordination more efficient, but it also helps prevent physician frustration with time-consuming data entry.
2. Exchanging lab results
Another fertile area where secure messaging can significantly improve throughput is the exchange of lab results. Without a system that automates these exchanges, lab results and images can sit in the EMR for hours before the physician is ever alerted. These substantial delays in care cause a poor experience for patients and waste a physician’s time – time that could be better spent seeing patients.
With a secure messaging solution, alerts and push notifications can be sent directly to the physician’s smartphone as soon as the results are ready. This gives the physician access to complete lab results – including detailed views of X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans – to ensure a prompt diagnosis. Furthermore, many solutions offer forwarding capabilities; so if a physician sees an abnormal result, they can instantly send the scan to the specialist best suited to provide a second opinion.
3. Streamlining discharge processes and transitions of care
Finally, let’s consider how secure messaging can improve discharge processes and create a more seamless transition of care. Those who work in healthcare are well aware of Medicare’s 72-hour rule, which effectively states once a patient’s hospital stay exceeds 72 hours, Medicare is often no longer responsible for providing reimbursement for procedures. As such, it’s imperative that care transitions are tightly coordinated to avoid delays that could push a patient past the 72-hour window, and secure messaging enables instant internal communication to ensure swift transitions.
Once a physician clears a patient to go home, it’s important the discharge order is received in a timely manner. Unfortunately, these orders can go unnoticed in the EMR for hours, resulting in long, unnecessary waits for patients who are eager to go home, as well as increased costs for the hospital associated with unused bed days and lost Medicare reimbursements. Secure messaging solutions can help care providers tackle this issue by providing automated alerts when discharge orders are placed, so discharge planners, case managers, nurses, and others can move the patient through the process quickly. This results in shorter hospital stays for patients, higher reimbursements and incentives from payers, and an overall reduction in bed days.
Secure messaging won’t solve all of the communication inefficiencies impacting healthcare, but it can certainly help. By investing in a secure messaging solution, healthcare organizations can dramatically improve care coordination, providing a better experience for patients while reducing operational costs and physician burnout. As the Affordable Care Act continues to bring more and more patients into the system, it’s critical that care providers start to adopt the tools at their disposal to improve care coordination – and secure messaging is a cost-effective place to start.