ONC Reports 30% Annual Increase in Patient-Physician Secure Message Exchange

More physicians are using secure text message services to communicate with patients. According to a recent Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) data brief, secure message exchange with patients has increased by 30% between 2013 and 2014. However, little progress appears to have been made improving data sharing between healthcare providers.

At the start of the year, HHS announced it will be moving the majority of Medicare payments to a system that promotes payments based on the provision of quality care, instead of one based on volume. The provision of quality care involves engaging patients more; encouraging them to take charge of their own healthcare. One of the best ways to do this is to create an environment where they are able to send and receive healthcare data via their mobile phones. Physicians have embraced this, and are now using secure text messages to communicate with patients.

ONC recently conducted a study to determine whether the drive to patient-centered care is having an effect on the provision of healthcare services. Data from the National Electronic Health Record Surveys, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, were analyzed for 2013 and 2014.

The results of that study show that in 2014, 52% of physicians were using secure message exchange, encrypted text messages to patients to communicate Protected Health Information. In 2013 that figure stood at 40%. The number of physicians using secure text messages to communicate with patients had increased by 30% over the space of 12 months.

Easy sharing of health data is essential if the cost of healthcare provision is to be reduced, yet there are many obstacles in the way of a fully interoperable healthcare system. The move from physical records to their electronic counterparts is one way this can be achieved, yet it is still not possible for patients to easily share their PHI with healthcare providers in many cases.

The transition to electronic health records should make it possible for patients’ health information to be accessible from any hospital, run by any healthcare provider, from anywhere in the country. For that to happen, all healthcare providers must maintain a common set of health information, which can be sent and received quickly and efficiently.

In order for this goal to be achieved, obstacles need to be cleared. ONC is working hard to ensure that happens quickly. ONC has recently issued its 10-year interoperability roadmap, via which the department hopes to ensure that the healthcare industry continues to make improvements toward a fully interoperable healthcare system, one in which electronic health information is shared efficiently. The overall aim is to develop a seamless method of exchanging electronic health information.

While it is good news that healthcare providers are using technology to share data with patients in accordance with the ONCs interoperability roadmap, there appears to be some reluctance, or inability, to share the same data with other healthcare providers.

Over the same time frame, there was only a 7% increase in the number of physicians who reported sharing data with other healthcare providers. In 2013, 39% of physicians said they actively shared PHI of patients with other providers of healthcare services.

Author: Richard Anderson

Richard Anderson is the Editor-in-Chief of NetSec.news