Improve care with provider-patient electronic communications

August 1, 2008

Employers and health plans are pursuing technologies such as secure email, personal health records (PHR) and home monitoring in hopes of improving compliance with treatment plans and care management programs.

Employers and health plans are pursuing technologies such as secure email, personal health records (PHR) and home monitoring in hopes of improving compliance with treatment plans and care management programs. However, providers still tend to worry more about bottom-line implications of new technology such as initial and ongoing support cost, liability exposure, staff training and ramp-up, and assuming new time commitments that may not be fully reimbursed.

Ultimately, provider support will be key to making any technology initiative a success – they are the patient's trusted advisors, and the sine qua non for technology adoption. To ensure provider support, the healthcare industry is searching for effective, low-cost, easy-to-use patient-provider communication solutions that overcome provider concerns and fit into the existing practice workflow.

Industry challenge

Providers find themselves increasingly burdened with administrative and reporting requirements, larger patient panels and fear any additional burden on their time or loss of control of patient care decisions. They are understandably concerned that electronic communications with patients may be an unproductive use of their time and may also expose them to legal and regulatory problems. Unlike phone conversations, emails are self-documenting, raising concerns of greater liability exposure and of potential patient privacy problems arising under HIPAA.

While opinions differ about when and how health communications will evolve, most observers agree that electronic communications will inevitably cause a profound change in the fundamental physician-patient relationship. For better or worse, as patients have gained greater access to web-based resources in recent years, providers have increasingly experienced an erosion of their monopoly on health and medical information. Now patients, providers, employers and insurers need to focus on finding the best way to integrate and maximize the benefits of patient and provider use of online tools.