Healthcare Technology Featured Article

April 27, 2015

The New Age of Medicine

By 2018, more than 50 percent of people will access online activities through a tablet or smartphone first, rather than a computer or laptop, according to a recent Gartner study. As consumers become more and more tech savvy, they are increasingly communicating via multiple touch points, blurring the lines across channels. As a result, organizations are changing their channel strategy and business models in response, including hospitals and other healthcare organizations. For example, an increasing number of healthcare organizations rely on telemedicine, the ability to fully communicate and treat a patient through text and video. It's communication between colleagues and also between doctors and their patients, and it’s the new age of medicine. 

While these shifts are creating an increasingly blended healthcare reality for both users and providers, patients deserve the same high-value and secure experience no matter which treatment channel they choose. This expectation may be a challenge for healthcare providers to meet, but, without it, organizations face serious risks of unintentionally mishandling protected health information (PHI). For healthcare professionals that comply with the standards of the law to protect PHI, the results are profitable and undeniable.

The smartest hospitals and healthcare organizations already recognize the need to take the best from both offline and online communications in order to provide this high-value experience no matter where their patients and colleagues are – and do so, using messaging applications approved by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Healthcare providers can use HIPAA-compliant telemedicine to text, send pictures, and conduct video calls with each other and also with their patients. For hospitals and healthcare organizations looking to create the mobile healthcare experience users are demanding, integrating virtual and in-person care within a compliant environment is critical.

FaceTime and iMessages and Skype . . . Oh No!

Today, we’re seeing an increasing number of healthcare providers and patients rushing into digital healthcare, and using unregulated methods of communication. This isn’t surprising given that only 29 percent of healthcare employees have access to some sort of HIPAA-secure messaging. Considering how far hospitals have come technologically, this statistic is disconcerting.

Why are so few hospitals and healthcare organizations deploying HIPAA-secure messaging? When asked that question, over 50 percent of healthcare providers claimed that compliance concerns are the main bar to SMS technology. Additionally, nearly 40 percent said security concerns prevent secure messaging from being adopted; FaceTime, iMessage, & Skype are not HIPAA-compliant. When left unregulated, virtual medicine can do more harm than good.

While the use of general SMS would be a violation of HIPAA, secure messaging applications provide an enterprise-class solution, fully encrypted and HIPAA-compliant. Healthcare providers can solve this escalating dilemma by enabling HIPAA-compliant and secure text messaging and video chat on healthcare professionals’ devices, ensuring the delivery of effective and efficient patient care.

For the same reasons you shouldn’t expect an accurate answer from a random doctor in the street, you shouldn’t contact an Internet doctor with no previous knowledge of your medical history. Using HIPAA-compliant messaging, patients can safely communicate with their known physician and doctor’s office, which is exactly what any patient should do – whether online or in-person. In addition, a HIPAA-secure conversation with your doctor is likely covered by insurance, and the same cannot be said for connecting with an unknown, online clinical communication resource. Lastly, your physician is able to write prescriptions if you need them via HIPAA-compliant messaging, another thing that “doctor” you find online is unable to do.

So what’s stopping you from Skyping the first medical expert you find in a Google search? If it’s not common sense, then lack of familiarity, quality, security, prescriptions, and unnecessary costs should be enough to stop you.

Telemedicine: It’s Not a Partial Substitute

Telemedicine is ideal for busy professionals who can’t travel or take time off from work to visit their doctors, and can instead conveniently hold a FaceTime-like video call with their own doctor. It’s also a great alternative for brief follow-up visits and acute or emergency issues. So it’s not surprising that over 72 percent of healthcare professionals believed they could use HIPAA-secure text messaging to communicate with peers about emergencies or incidents when polled.

For example, while vacationing in Mexico, a patient ruptured a blood vessel in her eye, which can be very scary, but also very benign. She was able to use HIPAA-compliant texting and telemedicine app, HipaaChat to video call with her own doctor, and within 30 seconds was reassured and armed with expert instructions. In this case, telemedicine saved the patient a trip to the emergency room in a foreign country. It’s a powerful solution that fosters physician-to-physician, and physician-to-patient, video collaboration, to facilitate faster response time, and ensure better communication across the board.

Telemedicine consults are fully reimbursable in most cases, with payment being 100 percent of the code you bill, just like an office visit. In fact, using HipaaChat to conduct real-time video consults is reimbursable by almost every insurance company. Your healthcare provider should be able to walk you through the documentation guidelines if you have any questions.

The Best of Both Worlds & The New Age of Medicine

With the lines between virtual and in-person care becoming less distinct, healthcare providers are under pressure to meet the new expectations of technically savvy users for a safe experience regardless of channel. As hospitals and healthcare organizations try to satisfy those demands, it’s critical to balance efficient communications with compliance.

Fortunately, HIPAA-compliant telemedicine solutions are designed to ensure that healthcare workers have the resources available to serve their colleagues, employees, organizations and patients as quickly, safely and securely as they can, for better patient outcomes, and more satisfied patients.

About the Author: Dr. Habash is the Chief Medical Officer of Everbridge, a global critical communications provider. She started a successful career by being elected President of the Palm Beach County Ophthalmology Society, twice.  

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino
By TMCnet Special Guest
Dr. Ranya Habash, chief medical officer at Everbridge ,

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