HIPAA-compliant text messaging helps doctors, patients with care and recovery

Doctors on the front lines of the opioid crisis find text messaging helpful in managing treatment with patients.
By Bill Siwicki
04:22 PM
doctor texting patients

Text messaging is a growing practice that enables physicians and patients to communicate with each other via secure, HIPAA-compliant text messages. Many technology vendors are enabling this style of clinical communication, including Doc Halo, DocsInk, Imprivata, LuxSci, OhMD, pMDsoft and TigerText.

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Mel Viney, MD, is a hospitalist with emergency room responsibilities at Artesian Valley Health System and is on the front lines of the opioid crisis. He treats patients addicted to opioids every day.

One such treatment includes the prescription of Suboxone, a narcotic medication used to aid recovering addicts with the symptoms of withdrawal from opiates. The medication is used as a form of detox, where patients ultimately are weaned from the Suboxone so they are drug-free.

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But this treatment requires a lot of communication between clinician and patient. And Viney is in constant communication with his patients through a free and HIPAA-compliant secure text messaging app.

"The secure text messaging platform is allowing me to remotely manage my Suboxone patient population to ensure their care and recovery," he said. "I regularly engage with patients to discuss doses, their treatment and all-around wellness during the sensitive and crucial time of recovery – this is especially important over the first three days during induction."

When kicking off care, Viney has all his Suboxone patients download the secure text app, from OhMD, while in his office. He then exchanges a round of test text messages to ensure they are connected. That way, if patients go "off the grid," Viney knows they're purposefully not maintaining treatment and he can then seek appropriate next steps.

"For example, I recently started a patient on Suboxone and got her up and running on OhMD during her first visit," he explained. "When beginning this type of treatment, a patient's dosage should be progressively adjusted in incremental levels to hold the patient in treatment and suppress opioid withdrawal signs and symptoms."

To ensure doses were taken accurately, Viney checked up with her via secure text three times a day so she could keep him abreast of how she was feeling and to confirm that she had taken the dosage.

"She can also text me, too, when she's not feeling well or if she has a question," he said. "That way, I can quickly reply and assist ASAP. Because I have such a busy schedule day to day, the ability for patients to reach me, and vice versa, quickly and simply is very important."

While the basic OhMD app is free, OhMD as a company makes money by charging for extras. These include integration with electronic health records systems.

"I use CPSI, and as the only provider in my practice thus far using OhMD, we have not yet integrated with the EHR," Viney said. "That said, OhMD can integrate with EHRs, so there is no need to learn a new software, and care teams triage messages just like phone calls. I look forward to expanding the use of the app to the entire care team and integrating with the EHR in the near future as the secure texting solution segregates communication containing PHI from other communication platforms, such as SMS texting and email."

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: bill.siwicki@himssmedia.com