Secure Messaging: Why it Makes Your Job Easier and Your Patients Happier

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By Angela Hunsberger, Hayes Management Consulting
Twitter: @HayesManagement

Over the past decade rapid changes in healthcare technology have caused a whirlwind of medical software adoption, and, in some cases, an overconsumption of ancillary products. Medical practices have implemented EHRs, patient portals, and secure messaging to participate in programs such as Meaningful Use and Patient Centered Medical Home certification.

Even though the technology is in place, your staff may still be digesting the impact to current workflows resulting in the full product not being utilized. Now is the time to optimize product features and reap benefits far beyond just meeting minimum program requirements. One specific area of optimization frequently overlooked is secure messaging. So how can you leverage secure messaging in your practice?

Secure messaging ensures that incoming messages are linked to the correct patient in your EHR. The message details can be thought of in advance by the patient so that staff are better equipped to respond. Patients can send messages any time of day and the documentation is recorded directly in the patient’s chart. The message replies can be referenced by the patient which improves both patient satisfaction and patient care.

However, even with all this technology, patients are still calling your practice and are being held hostage listening to a long phone tree option menu, getting placed on hold or getting disconnected. They are frustrated when they are told to hold, call a different phone number or have to repeat questions when transferred to multiple staff. Providers and patients are still being caught in the game of phone tag and phone hours limit the opportunity to communicate. While talking with an actual person holds value and should not be replaced, the bulk of requests can be handled online more efficiently.

Secure messaging may be helping somewhat with these constraints, but it could be better utilized when moved from the background to the forefront of your practice workflows. Consider taking secure messaging to the next level with the following three tips.

Tip #1: Revamp Design and Integration

Rather than allowing patients to send any type of general free-form message, provide eforms on the portal and use a strategic approach for incoming messages. Provide patients a subject line drop down as a required field. A pre-defined subject list communicates the appropriate message types. Pre-populate patient entered fields pulling from the practice management or EHR when possible. Design eforms to store structured data that can be automatically included in the patient demographics or chart. Use a disclaimer message to communicate the expected turnaround time for a reply. Zero in on high volume phone calls and review patient online message options. Use secure messaging for inbound clinical messages, billing questions, immunization requests, or other medical records requests.

Tip #2: Optimize Outgoing Messages

Drive portal traffic

Meaningful Use participation demands thresholds for patient portal adoption. It’s not enough to simply offer the portal, now you must prove that your patients are using it. Use secure messaging to capture your patient’s attention with a link to drive your patient to the portal rather than handing them a paper pamphlet. Some secure messaging vendors even offer mass messaging features to target a group of patients and send a specific message automatically based on predefined criteria. Make online communication a part of your standard workflows. One example is to send lab results via secure message to your patient portal. Not only will these activities count towards meeting meaningful use, you will save time and money shifting your workflows from paper communications to a more updated approach while leveraging technology you already own.

Provider to Provider Messaging

Think beyond patient communication and use secure messaging to communicate with providers via direct exchange. According to, “Direct is a technical standard for exchanging health information between health care entities (e.g. primary care physicians, specialists, hospitals, clinical labs) in a trusted network. It is secure, easy-to-use, inexpensive, and approved for use by nationally-recognized experts and organizations.” Provider to provider communication via direct messaging is highly beneficial and drastically underutilized. Stage 2 of Meaningful Use is driving adoption, but benefits can be realized today regardless of program participation. Think of direct messaging as a way to streamline your inbound referrals, outbound referrals, and general transition of care coordination. Start with your top providers to collect their secure direct address and grow from there.

Tip #3: Review Technical Options

It’s not uncommon to use only the minimum settings when you first implement secure messaging. Take a look at the nooks and crannies to see if there are any system configurations that make your job easier. For example, provide standard templates on high volume messages for staff. Templates guarantee consistent and complete responses while saving time on data entry. Another helpful tip is to review whether or not you will allow inbound or outbound messages to include attachments, the ability to reply, to hide senders name, etc. Lastly, take another look at how incoming messages are triaged. Confirm message routing options are built to route to an appropriate user inbox. One solution is to automatically route messages to a general proxy inbox (based on message type) for multiple staff to work rather than having messages going directly to one staff member’s inbox. The shared approach is especially helpful for keeping the workflow unchanged when staff take vacation or leave the practice.

Secure message success ultimately boils down to making your patients and healthcare partners aware of these tools, maximizing the technology to complement existing workflows and placing the benefits in the spotlight so people will actually use it.

This article was originally published on Hayes Management Consulting and is republished here with permission.