The Doctor’s Inbox — Healthcare Providers Use Technology to Communicate with Patients

Share By Sachin Shenolikar

Despite security and privacy concerns, a growing number of physicians are embracing digital technology in their communication with patients. That includes sharing information about services and wellness to a broad audience, and also corresponding directly with patients about their personal health issues.

The recent improvements start with physicians revamping their websites. This has allowed doctors to post essential information about which services they offer and to make appointment scheduling easier through patient portals. That includes streamlining the processes of rescheduling and sending reminders electronically instead of over the phone.

A common analogy that’s made is making the patient scheduling process similar to picking a seat for a flight through an airline’s website, says James Karpook, principal at The Chartis Group.

That mentality is expanding to include information about how to contact physicians directly to follow-up after an office visit.

“More and more physicians are communicating with their patients via email so that they don’t have to call in and be waiting on the phone to speak to a nurse or the physician,” says Karpook.

Another area where communications technology is helping doctors is in disease management. For example, patients who have congestive heart failure can use a device at home that links to a processor to capture real-time results. Physicians can then take immediate action when a problem arises.

Also, diabetes patients are using mobile apps to log their blood-sugar levels so healthcare providers can monitor them in real-time. Providers are also sending patients text message reminders to check their blood sugar and then have the data sent to the doctor’s office.

Social media is another growing digital frontier for physicians. Many are posting articles and sharing their expertise about wellness and healthcare innovation on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. “Social media is ideal to connect with patients collectively, but not individually,” said Dr. Kevin Pho to The Doctor’s Tablet Blog.

Dr. Pho is an advocate of doctors having protected social media time during the workday so they can write blog posts or create videos to be shared. That would force them to get more comfortable with the technology and possibly push ideas to another level. “Replacing a half-day session a week of seeing patients with social media time to create content would be a reasonable goal,” he said. “Healthcare leaders and administrators are the ones who can make that happen.”

Still, it’s the one-on-one electronic communication that will set the tone for the future of healthcare. More doctors are corresponding with patients through email and text messaging. Karpook also cites a next wave of physician concierge services that charge a monthly fee to allow patients greater access to physicians through email, instant messaging, or video chat. Making these channels secure and private is the biggest challenge ahead.

 “We’ll have to continue to find ways to ensure that electronic health information that’s shared is secure,” he says. “There needs to be the IT infrastructure to support it.”

To a great extent, electronic communication between doctors and patients will be driven by consumer preference. As more consumers begin to prefer electronic means for communication, healthcare organizations and physicians will have to adapt to accommodate them. Couple that with the bigger structural healthcare reforms that are promoting better communication between doctors and patients, and it’s likely that we’ll be seeing more progress in this area very soon.

“Perhaps in the coming years, when payment isn’t tied to the number of patients seen, communicating with patients can be emphasized, whether it’s through a phone call, email, or social media,” said Dr. Pho.

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