When the Phone Line Is a Lifeline: How MSPs Can Improve Communications for Health Care Providers
For health-care providers, communication is the most important aspect of their businesses. Hopefully they can handle face-to-face conversations on their own. When it comes to communications technology, however, MSPs can provide real value. For example, while new patient portals and other electronic forms of communication are increasing in popularity, the phone line remains the most important lifeline. According to InboundMD, 65 percent of patients still prefer to book an appointment via phone.
Still, while phone systems reign supreme, that doesn’t mean they are the only form of communication technology you should be offering your clients — that ignores 35 percent of patients who prefer other forms of communication.
Here are some best practices for building a complete bundle for health-care providers:
Understand available communication technology. While the majority of people still prefer to call their docs, younger patients are likely to prefer newer technologies. Make sure you know the full range of communication options so you can set up what makes sense for a practice’s specific needs.
- Patient portals: For the 13 percent of patients who prefer an online form, patient portals can offer 24/7 access to medical records, the ability to make and view appointments, and access to relevant information. While these portals are an interesting new option, health-care providers have struggled to get patients to adopt this technology due to concerns over privacy or a lack of understanding of the benefits.
- Email and SMS: A combined 24 percent of patients in the InboundMD study prefer to receive physician communications through email or text message. While it’s becoming easier to find HIPAA-compliant email and SMS tools that can send encrypted messages to patients, you and your client must work to make sure the staff is consistently sending messages through the proper solutions.
- Phone systems: While emails and patient portals can result in misunderstanding of lab results or tests, phone calls will always offer the health-care provider the opportunity to offer additional information and increase patient care. Once the right HIPAA-compliant solution is found, these systems are usually the easiest to integrate into the organization’s current network.
- Web fax: Make sure to consider how providers communicate with hospitals, labs and other partners. Offering a secure, web-based faxing solution will make sure these messages continue to protect PHI.
Adjust to doctor’s workflow: The biggest determinant for whether employees will adopt new communications technology is whether it integrates with the existing workflow. Requiring too many steps or choosing tools that are overly complicated is a sure way to prevent buy-in. If employees aren’t able to easily use the technology, it will slow down efficiency at best, and cause them to use non-HIPAA compliant methods at worst.
For patient portals, email, SMS and web/fax, look for solutions that can be easily integrated with existing phone and computer systems. This will streamline operations and limit the instances where data needs to be input more than once. Phone systems will be more easily integrated as they are already a major part of the provider’s current workflow. While office phones are easy to swap out, cellphones are a different story. Look for a phone system that includes a mobile app so caregivers on the go can easily maintain compliance and link to the office desk phone.
Offer education and training: In addition to choosing easy-to-use solutions, the best way to ensure adoption is to provide education and training to both employees and patients.
Solutions that require employees to learn new technology will require additional assistance from the MSP. This is important not only for getting employees to use these solutions – and thus not waste money – but also to maintain HIPAA compliance. While most employees will be able to pick up a new phone system without any training, partner portals in particular may require an investment in education if this technology is new to the health-care organization. Smart MSPs offer training seminars and detailed documentation, and making sure they and/or third-party vendors are available for regular support.
Often, a big part of patient education will be simply letting patients know that a new communication option exists. A survey found that less than half of patients knew that their doctor offered a patient portal. Even after they are aware of the option, patients will need to be educated on the benefits; otherwise, they won’t bother to sign up.
Email and SMS messages might also require some additional education. You might need patients to opt in to receive communications through these methods. Make sure they understand they are opting in to receive encrypted communications and include a disclaimer that explains exactly what is involved and what security measures are in place.
Focus on security and compliance: Through all of these points, we’ve mentioned the importance of security and protecting patient information. In an annual study on health-care compliance benchmarks, HIPAA compliance and OCR audit readiness has been listed as a top priority by health-care organizations for four years in a row. Offering security solutions and choosing technology that is HIPAA-compliant is the best value you can offer as an MSP. Not only is this a major concern for health-care providers, it’s an area where they will lean on your expertise.
Make sure all third-party solutions you choose are certified as HIPAA-compliant and that the integrations you develop are also secure. Third-party solutions should be willing to provide a BAA (business associate agreement) to share liability in the event anything goes wrong.
For most health-care providers, the phone line really is a lifeline to patients. Luckily, a HIPAA-compliant phone system is the simplest communication technology to integrate with the provider’s workflow, gain employee and patient adoption and maintain PHI security. From that base, you can build a complete communication infrastructure and layer on training and security services.
Doug Parent is the CEO and co-founder of RingRx, provider of a HIPAA compliant phone system for doctors, therapists and clinicians. Follow them on Twitter at @RingRx or email Doug at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about channel partner and reseller opportunities.