Secure texting: A pathway to clinical collaboration

From the growing popularity of value-based payment models to consumerism, a number of trends in the healthcare industry make it more critical than ever for physicians to have the ability to communicate in real time with the whole care team to improve the patient experience.

Healthcare is moving away from a model where organizations are compensated based on the quantity of care they provide to one where they are paid based on providing high-quality care in an efficient and effective manner. To succeed in this new environment, healthcare organizations are exploring ways to improve care coordination.

This content is sponsored by Vocera

There are many participants involved in the healthcare process: nurses, physicians, specialists, family members and the patient — and each is responsible for a different aspect of care delivery and health outcomes. In their efforts to provide coordinated care across the continuum, providers must share information and actively engage patients to improve health outcomes.

There are various factors that will determine a provider organization's success with value-based payment models, the patient experience and coordinated care efforts. However, there is one thing they all need — continuous, real-time communication. 

Healthcare communication challenges

Data security is vital in healthcare, and it is also a huge problem for many provider organizations. In 2014, 42 percent of reported data breaches happened in healthcare, and there's a reason the industry is being targeted — medical data has a high value.

"The value of your financial identity is minimal compared to your healthcare identity," says Gautam M Shah, vice president of product management at Vocera Communications. "Every time one of these data breaches happens, it's a lot of money out the door and it's a headache for everyone involved."

In addition to medical information being lucrative for hackers, a lack of security measures also makes healthcare organizations a prime target.

"Healthcare lags behind similarly regulated industries in the investment in IT and security," says Mr. Shah. With the number of healthcare breaches occurring each year, that trend must change.

One of the major pain points when it comes to security is the "bring your own device" trend. Vocera surveyed more than 100 health IT leaders during the 2015 HIMSS Conference to gauge insight into BYOD strategies, demands and preferences. The results revealed many hospitals are still grappling with how to manage the use of personal devices within the enterprise. In fact, although 64 percent of health IT leaders said their healthcare organizations support BYOD, only 26 percent have a platform or plan to support secure communication.

Another communication challenge plaguing the industry is the inability to connect with affiliated physicians. Thirty-eight percent of health IT leaders said their organizations do not have a communication solution to support affiliated physicians who use personal devices. That creates problems because newly affiliated physicians need an easy on-ramp to collaborate with the broader team, and health systems need revenue generating patient referrals from affiliated physicians.

With the growing popularity of accountable care organizations and the focus on population health, provider collaboration is vital both inside and outside of a facility's four walls. However, due to the necessity to protect patient privacy and safeguard patient information, not just any type of communication will suffice.

"Security must be paramount"

Security must be a top priority for any communications solution provider, and it is a top concern at Vocera. In fact, security is inherent in how Vocera's solutions work, according to Mr. Shah.

"Security isn't something you bolt on. It's not something that you add in afterward," he says. "Security has to be paramount."

Vocera has been recognized for its commitment to security. The company is certified by the U.S. Department of Defense to provide communications to military healthcare facilities. This certification is the result of a rigorous security review and audit.

Striking the right balance between security and convenience

The risks associated with physicians sending and receiving unsecure text messages are clear, yet many physicians still use texting methods that aren't secure in favor of convenience.

In fact, a 2014 survey by Spyglass Consulting Group revealed 96 percent of physicians have used SMS — an unsecure text messaging method — for patient care, thereby risking HIPAA violations, data breaches and fines of up to $1.5 million per year.

Addressing this issue requires balance. If a solution is too convenient it's likely not secure, like SMS, says Mr. Shah. "On the other hand, if it's secure and not convenient, people aren't going to use it."

The key is to provide familiarity. "To drive compliance and usage amongst physicians, you have to give them an experience they're used to," says Mr. Shah. For example, Vocera's solution offers physicians a secure texting experience that mirrors the process they're accustomed to with SMS texting.

In addition to being secure and convenient, there has to be added value and convenience for physicians to want to use a communications solution. An example is Vocera's master directory that is included in their secure texting solution. Vocera has the ability to offer the largest directory in the industry because it has the largest number of customers, with more than 1,000 healthcare facilities using the Vocera solution. This makes texting convenient for a larger population, which is of utmost importance in value-based care models.

"The ability to communicate is completely irrelevant and useless if you don't have an accurate directory of people to communicate with," says Mr. Shah.

How a communications platform can increase clinical collaboration

To further advance care team collaboration, it is necessary to integrate health system communication platforms with EHRs and other clinical systems currently in use, such as nurse call systems. This provides critical data in real time for optimal patient care and

keeps clinicians up-to-date on the patient's journey.

Mobile EHR app users can connect with the Vocera Collaboration Suite to use voice communication and secure text messaging through their smartphones. In addition, Vocera software can synchronize care team assignment information between the EHR and the Vocera mobile app, allowing care team members to access the appropriate member of the team.

Using a communications solution to improve patient satisfaction

The faster a care team reacts to patients and their needs, the more satisfied patients become. Therefore, making sure care team communication is "quick, easy and accurate" is vital, says Mr. Shah.

If a patient is in pain and wants to get a hold of a nurse, the patient will grow frustrated if he or she can't get in touch with the nurse. The patient will also become frustrated if he or she has to wait for the nurse to talk to the physician. By giving the nurse and patient access to each other in the way they want to communicate, secure texting allows the patient's needs to be better met. 

In addition, Vocera's solution allows the care team to communicate with the patient. This improves the patient's understanding of treatment plans and adherence to those plans.

Communicating with the patient's family is just as important as communicating with the patient. When a patient is in the hospital, their family members want high-quality care delivered quickly. Real-time communication between nurses and physicians speeds up the care process, and gives family members peace of mind.

"Healthcare works on workflow"

A secure texting solution needs to be intimately connected to the workflow platform, says Mr. Shah. Vocera has made that a priority. The company's communications solution drives efficiency, patient and staff satisfaction, and makes the whole system operate more smoothly.  

In today's healthcare climate, where efficiently providing high-quality care is the goal, communication is key, and using a secure platform that gives clinicians the information they need when they need it is essential. 

"Patient care, safety and satisfaction are top priorities for Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital, so we are committed to giving our providers the best tools available to improve communication efficiencies and clinical outcomes. After reviewing existing practices and new technology tools, the Vocera Secure Texting Solution was the clear choice," said Carl Olden, Chief Medical Informatics Officer at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital. "Vocera's Secure Texting Solution gives our providers a HIPAA-compliant, convenient communication and care coordination solution and leverages the benefits of the Vocera Communication Platform. This solution brings the hospital's clinical team and our community care providers together under a single platform to allow timely, mobile and secure communications so they can keep focus on patient care."

More articles on health IT:
Equicare Health receives Drummond Group certification
ProMedica: Making strategic use of a modern healthcare communication platform
Healthcare’s future Is happening now

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