Securely Treating the Patient, Not the Medical Record Number

Kevin Groszkowski
Securely Treating the Patient, Not the Medical Record Number

In today’s culture, people use SMS texting to send and receive very short bits of information quickly. Texting has been a game-changer throughout the world, but healthcare hasn’t quite reaped the benefits of it. Our industry needs the texting ability, but with the added requirement that information is sent in a HIPAA-compliant manner. Not an easy task, until recently.

Before we found a secure text messaging app, if my practice wanted to send a message to another provider about a patient we couldn’t use their name, so we often found ourselves using their medical record number. Well, I don’t know my patients by their medical record numbers, I know them by their names. After all, I chose to become a primary care physician because I am passionate about getting to know my patients and being able to take care of them in a longitudinal way. I really enjoy getting to know them, who they are as people, and being there for them at every point that I need to be in terms of their health. If I received a message saying, “Medical record number 123 has shortness of breath,” it didn’t mean anything to me. In order to provide a meaningful answer to the person who was sending me the SMS text I had to be able to log into the electronic health record, pull up that patient’s medical record number to figure out who they were, and then send a response back. Talk about wasting time!

Then last spring my practice started using athenaText, a secure messaging app. We kind of played around with the service a little bit to see what it could offer, and quickly found that it really met our biggest need and struggle: efficient and secure HIPAA-compliant communication between staff members in and out of the office. With the HIPAA compliance I can not only be more thorough in my communications, but I can take the ambiguity out of my texts. I no longer have to worry about being cryptic or using a medical record number to discuss a patient’s care.

In our office we use athenaText in a multitude of ways. As a provider, I use athenaText to…

  • send messages to the medical assistants or to the front office staff if I need them to contact a specialist to request a referral or a consult note.
  • contact a lab to request results that we have not received or that may have been ordered by another provider.
  • send messages through to our billing staff, asking them to enter billing charges for things like reviews of home health certifications or home health plans of care.

Our nurse practitioners use athenaText throughout the day, primarily as a means to communicate with the physicians. A phone call can be inconvenient because if someone is in with a patient you have to wait until they get out of that room in order to be able to call back. With athenaText, one of our nurse practitioners will see a patient and start an evaluation, and then they will send us a text. They can ask us questions to provide real-time feedback in terms of how to proceed, and they are able to then notify us what they have done and that someone will be following up for that condition. When I see a patient I’m already involved in the care communication and the care decisions—before the patient has even stepped into my exam room or my office.

If the nurse practitioner has a question about, say, which antibiotic to choose for a certain infection she can send the message to us and we can respond. Before the patient leaves they will know what antibiotic they’re going to be taking and fully understand the directions for taking it appropriately.

Our patients really like what athenaText has allowed us to do. Because our NPs have quick access to us and we can get answers back to them quickly to move the patient through the care process, we have seen improved patient satisfaction and decreased wait times for all of the patients in the walk-in clinic, where it has been especially valuable. A lot of times the nurse practitioners will tell the patients that they are communicating with the physician via the athenaText product while they’re in the room with the patient. The patient really appreciates that, because they understand that the nurse practitioner is working with us, even though we’re not there. And not only are they getting the knowledge and expertise that the nurse practitioner has to offer, but they’re also able to see that they can consult with the physician.

We define success as delivering the highest quality care possible to our patients. Success includes high patient satisfaction – we want to be the practice that patients in town want to come to. By allowing us to better communicate among ourselves and to better collaborate among the staff members, athenaText has allowed us to reach those goals. It has made us much more productive and patient care has definitely improved, because when you need that answer right away you have it right at your fingertips, no matter where you are.

Dr. Groszkowski is a physician at Annapolis Internal Medicine.

This blog was originally posted at athenahealth’s CloudView blog.