- Healthcare secure messaging is quickly becoming a key option for healthcare providers, especially as technology continues to evolve and mobile devices increase in popularity.
Doctors, nurses, and other employees need to ensure that they can securely communicate critical information without compromising patient care in the process.
Lubbock, Texas-based Covenant Medical Group and Covenant Health Partners first implemented a secure messaging option out of necessity, according to IT Systems Director Seth Crouch, MBA, CPC, CMPE, CHFP.
Physicians, nurses, and other staff members wanted an easy and convenient way to communicate information, but Crouch said that he knew HIPAA compliance was also going to be essential.
Covenant opted for secure messaging through PerfectServe, according to Crouch, and that the C-suite and IT steering committee were all part of the decision making process.
“The way we decided to roll this out in order to gain adoption, was to get our very busy, high-profile physicians to use this and to start the communication process that way,” Crouch explained. “And they did. That sort of set the stage up for everyone else below them, where if they wanted to talk to these high-profile physicians, they had to use PerfectServe.”
The implementation took place at Covenant Medical about five years ago, and the hospital began to follow suit not long after, he stated. Employees are also able to use their own devices.
While presenting the case for why secure messaging would be beneficial, Crouch said that he emphasized the importance of keeping PHI safe. Standard SMS texting would not be able to promise that, he explained, and there were several lawsuits at the time that represented what could happen should secure data be intercepted.
“The high-profile doctors, they are the ones that made this thing a success,” Crouch maintained. “We had great support from PerfectServe on the application for secure texting. It just took off from there.”
He added that nurses are able to communicate on the platform through computers as well, meaning they don’t have to use their own data plans to maintain secure communications. This made kept them happy, Crouch said, which was definitely a “win-win.”
There are approximately 500 actual users in the medical group that use the secure platform, he stated, which includes doctors, nurses, and staff.
The ACO also has about 200 affiliate doctors who Covenant is also trying to link them into the secure platform. Some have opted to use it, according to Crouch, but not all of them. It depends on the kind of communication process that they have in place, he said.
The majority that opt to use the platform like that they can communicate back and forth with hospital staff. For individuals who choose not to, they’re typically in private practice so they don’t see the need to communicate with office staff, he said.
One of the tricky parts of the implementation process was with the hospital, as it’s part of an integrated delivery system.
For example, Obstetrics (OB) may want to communicate to nurses on the floor what was going on with a patient, Crouch explained. Or, OB might want to explain what needed to be done with a patient that was just presented.
The problem was that those individuals were employed by the hospital, and not the medical group, according to Crouch. The licenses were not for them.
However, Covenant began partnering with the hospital, so it could begin purchasing licenses so all employees could have the ability to communicate with each department, whether it was OB, pediatrics, or hospice.
“It needed to be where the nurses on the floor were also communicating with the doctors, as well as the nurses in the clinics communicating with the doctors, etc.,” Crouch said. “Everyone is communicating via the secure platform.”
In addition to the secure messaging option, Covenant also utilizes PerfectServe’s answering service system.
The previous answering service was not doing a good job in terms of billing, and also had poor performance when it came to support, according to Crouch. As it was also on a different platform than the new secure messaging platform, the two systems were not compatible.
“The two were disconnected,” Crouch explained. “So you would have a secure message on one platform, and your answering service messages on another, and the two weren’t talking to each other. We then started the transition to move all of our clinics over to their answering service platform, which turned out to be phenomenal and saved a ton of money.”
Prioritizing employee training
As with any new piece of technology or platform, Crouch underlined the importance of employee training.
Having a local analyst onsite during implementation to explain and train providers and staff on the process and the functionality is greatly beneficial.
Users log into the secure messaging application with their credentials or can authenticate with a thumbprint for an iPhone
Other healthcare organizations that are considering implementing a secure messaging option should ensure that they do their research and use demos to help them pick the platform that best suits their needs, according to Crouch.
An organization’s key stakeholders and leadership also need to understand the process, and see that a product is functional and easy to use, to help them back the adoption.
Crouch reiterated the importance of getting the backing of leading physicians to help in the transition process.
“We got those super busy [physicians] who everyone wants to communicate with, and everyone wants to talk to,” he said. “And they’re telling their nursing staff, ‘If you want to talk to me, this is how you’re going to have to talk to me because I’m not answering my text messages if you’re going to send me anything about a patient.”