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Maryland Practice Implements Secure Messaging Option

By Elizabeth Snell

Secure messaging is becoming an increasingly popular feature for healthcare organizations, especially as the push for BYOD continues to grow. However, covered entities must ensure all communications stay secure, and that employees are HIPAA compliant as they handle PHI. 

Secure messaging can improve communications and keep patient data secure

Annapolis Internal Medicine recently implemented athenaText, which allowed the small practice to have a secure text messaging option. The practice has 11 physicians, 10 internists and one endocrinologist, explained Dr. Kevin Groszkowki. The provider began to use the secure messaging option in April, and Groszkowki told HealthITSecurity.com that the move has been extremely beneficial and has improved communication throughout the entire practice.

Annapolis had been looking for a secure communication platform that would allow it to be HIPAA compliant for some time, according to Groszkowki. It was also important for all employees to be able to use the communication option, he explained, and that it was fully integrated in the Annapolis EHR and was mobile accessible. 

"The platform we chose has been great for us because it allows us to communicate as solid unit," Groszkowki said. "Our clinical support staff can instantly reach physicians and NPs and vice versa. Previously, we had been using everything from iMessage to chat programs like Yahoo chat and Google chat, but they’re not HIPAA-compliant, which severely limited what we could actually say about a patient."

It can be painfully frustrating trying to send cryptic, coded messages to fellow providers to avoid PHI exposure, he said. Moreover, unsecured text messages don't give you information necessary to make an immediate, real-time clinical decision when needed.

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"It’s like trying to solve a puzzle without all the pieces," Groszkowki said. "For instance, I often received unsecure messages with a patient’s medical number along with a brief summary of the issue. I had to stop what I was doing and look up the number to see who the patient was before responding."

Multiply that by hundreds of messages that a provider receives in a day and it can be overwhelming, he said. But with the new secure messaging option, Groszkowki said he no longer has to decipher what a nurse practitioner might be trying to say.

Another challenge was that the Annapolis acute care clinic is on a different floor than its office. Previously, Groszkowki said that for staff members to communicate between floors, they had to make phone calls. Lots of time was wasted with those extra steps, he said.  

"Our process was pretty disjointed," he explained. "We used different methods to talk with each other — instant chat, instant messaging, and the phone, which was often the most disruptive to the workflow. It was distracting and it wasn’t guaranteed you would reach someone. That’s why a secure, integrated solution, like athenaText, was such an easy decision for us."

Benefits beyond secure text messaging

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According to Groszkowki, there are numerous benefits that Annapolis has discovered in addition to the secure text messaging. The facility can now send pictures for consults, send alerts when patients arrive to pick up prescriptions, and text reminders to fill out patient charges. Overall, he said that everything from clinical decision support to office support has benefitted from the move to athenaText.

"I love that I don't have to log into the EHR to receive messages," Groszkowki said. "However, when I’m with a patient I can easily and discreetly follow-up on an urgent text within the EHR without breaking my workflow." 

The long-term benefits of better, more efficient communication, as well as a higher level of care coordination, are going to be huge, he added. The timesaving element already is having a positive effect on the speed and quality of care will exponentially increase as time goes on. As more providers adopt the same system, Groszkowki said they will be able to connect with providers that aren't on the athenahealth system.

"My goal is to create an ever-growing community of healthcare professionals, in-and-outside my practice," he stated.

Groszkowki highlighted several areas that other healthcare organizations should consider if they are considering implementing a similar secure messaging option. It's important to make sure the feature is HIPAA compliant and that it can be integrated within the EHR. Moreover, it should give the entity the flexibility to receive notifications when they are away from the desk or out of the office. This is especially true for physicians who work in multiple locations, and perhaps travel between hospitals and independent practices.

"Look for a service that’s designed specifically for the healthcare professional and that has an easy-to-use interface," he said. "Get your entire team on the platform. For any text messaging service to be effective, the entire team needs to use it."

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