By Mark Dwyer
Are you incorporating technology into your communication plan? Today’s consumers, patients, and physicians have expectations about the way you communicate with them. However, be careful. In all electronic communication, be sure to meet HIPAA and HITECH standards. Regardless of the communication method you use, you must encrypt any Personal Health Information (PHI).
It is more important than ever to interact using current technology. Texts and emails play an increasingly important part in sending patients both secure and nonsecure communications. These include reminders for appointments and medication refills, health information, care advice, confirmation of referrals, registrations, and other notifications. Not only does this increase consumer, patient, and physician satisfaction, but these electronic methods also increase the efficiency of the call center.
Some of the advantages include:
- Electronic communication—whether text or email—arrives quickly, usually within one to two minutes.
- The message contains clear, direct written communication and instructions.
- Patients and consumers can refer to the information, which they can review whenever needed.
- Repetitive phone calls or relying on memory or recall of the instructions are reduced.
- The consumer or patient’s need to write down the instructions or information given is eliminated.
More and more physicians and medical staff are requesting that call centers text them with answering service requests and patient callbacks and updates. These are becoming key areas for the call center to use secure texting or messaging to communicate with patients or medical staff.
Another growing use is to send secure emails or texts to the patient regarding the care advice given during a triage call. When doing so, remember that these transmissions must be HIPAA-compliant. Therefore, require the physician or patient to enter their last name and a password or challenge word before receiving the message.
An application often used in triage call centers is sending health information to a patient when they are not calling about a symptom-based issue but instead have a general health question—for example, about chickenpox. In this scenario, the triage nurse can send the information via secure text or email to the caller.
Call center staff can also text the physician when the provider needs to call the call center or to inform the physician that they need to call a patient. These outbound messages also work with answering services and on-call scheduling.
Hospitals are also using texting and email for nonclinical reasons. As an example, if there is a valid email address on the consumer record, many will email class registration and physician referral confirmation letters to their consumers. If the email address is not valid or if there is a misspelling in the email address, the software can send the confirmation letters to a generic email address that a manager reviews daily. In these cases, the manager prints the attached pdf version of the confirmation letter and then sends it via postal mail.
Finally, creative call centers equipped to handle calls from the hearing-impaired are now using secure text messaging. In this application, the triage nurse can send care advice associated with the guidelines used to the patient. One call center reported that a hearing-impaired patient cried upon receiving the care advice in a readable format.
Communication continues to change, and we must embrace it. We are a text and email society. And texts and emails are not going away. So embrace this valuable resource.
Mark Dwyer is a veteran of the healthcare call center industry and serves as COO of LVM Systems.