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Messaging, Accountable Care, and Infrastructure

January 5, 2012
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Messaging as an enabler for better healthcare

With all of the attention being given to healthcare reform, meaningful use and looming deadlines for ICD-10, hospital CIOs have more than enough on their plates already. But I think secure messaging, particularly between physicians and their patients, is worthy of attention.

I recently spoke with Harry Greenspun, M.D., senior advisor for health transformation and technology at the Washington, D.C.-based Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, on this emerging IT trend and the expectations of consumers. Using the retail industry as an example, he says consumers are interested in a messaging model that is an adjunct to other types of messaging—in the retail example, this could be links and photos—that provides a more robust consumer experience.

Dr. Greenspun also notes that messaging is really in its nascent stages in healthcare. One reason is the payment structure: doctors can’t bill for an IM conversation, he says. But messaging could play a more important role as the industry moves toward the accountable care model, where doctors are rewarded for the value that patients receive and better outcomes. Robust messaging technology could be an effective tool to help increase patient satisfaction and reducing cost, he says. “Whether it’s full-blown telemedicine or secure messaging, all of these things become financially viable and potentially attractive.”

Of course, the other major piece here is having the IT infrastructure in place to make all of this possible, in particular an electronic health record that can hold the information that can be pushed out to patients or received from them. Secure messaging is only an improvement if the IT infrastructure is in place that makes it worthwhile, he says. To be sure, there are many technological hurdles to widespread implementation, not the least of which is geographic location. Many areas of the country have little broadband access, Dr. Greenspun acknowledges.

Nonetheless, he adds that healthcare is now in the midst of transformations that other industries have already gone through. Online banking is now a given, and the ability of consumers to interact with their financial institutions is much greater than before. Many consumers have come to expect greater participation in healthcare as well, and it will be interesting to see how things shake out over the next few years, he says.