Secure message program aids patient-doctor communication

Penrose-St. Francis saves money, better engages patients in pilot test, says Margaret Sabin.

Healthgrades, which offers information on hospitals and physicians to help patients make choices about healthcare provider choices, has been testing a pilot program to enable consumers to have encrypted two-way secure messaging sessions with physicians.

Two-hospital Penrose-St. Francis Health Services in Colorado Springs was an early adopter, working with a school district that encouraged employees to sign up for the service, particularly those with chronic conditions.

Healthgrades, which operates consumer health information web sites, partnered with Conversa, which sells “Digital Checkups” software to enable messaging conversations with physicians or other clinicians when necessary between visits, giving providers a glimpse into patients’ lives which can inform how to motivate them. The service supports chronic care management, pre and post-surgery checkups, lifestyle health coaching and personal development.

“This allows us to connect with patients, keep them engaged and mindful of their health,” says Margaret Sabin, President and CEO at Penrose-St. Francis Health Services. “It’s kind of an artificial intelligence navigator. We did this to engage patients and use doctors, nurses and navigators to the top of their scope.”

In the past six months, Penrose-St. Francis has enrolled 400 employees from the school participating in the pilot program, and 71 percent of them have engaged in a conversation with a provider. The industry norm for such services, Sabin says, is about 30 percent.

Patients are more likely to initiate a secure text conversation, but physicians also can do so, for example, if they are following up after a surgery to determine if there is any irritation or redness at an incision site, as well as address any concerns the patient may have.

Also See: Lahey Health adopts platform for real-time secure messaging

Early results on enabling secure messaging between patients and clinicians show savings and efficiencies for Penrose, Sabin explains. Sessions are less expensive than if the organization followed a strategy of having nurses calling patients, and Sabin says it also saves money on inappropriate emergency department utilization, along with better patient outcomes.

Over time, Penrose-St. Francis expanded the program to hip and knee replacement patients with the goal of sending these patients home a day early, when appropriate, where they can quickly contact a provider if necessary but also be more comfortable in their home.

During the past 60 days however, about 50 patients have gone home the same day after surgery, and other patients are coming in and asking about the same-day program. Further, Penrose-St. Francis is able to additionally using the chat system to engage patients by asking behavioral health questions to assess their overall wellness, according to Sabin.

“We all have to get out of our comfort zone treating disease, and get out of the four walls of the hospital and engage patients so they know we care about them and their health,” she says.

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