Is it ok 2 txt yr patients?
For doctors hoping to remain relevant with today’s digitally driven consumers, the answer is a definitive “yes.” Texting is not only a convenient and increasingly popular mode of communication for millions of people; it can actually facilitate post-operative recovery.
That’s among the results of a study published in the July issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. Studying 102 women undergoing breast reconstruction after mastectomy, researchers found that doctor-patient texting reduced both the number of days a drain was needed and the number of post-op clinic visits and phone calls required. Specifically:
- In the first 30 days, the average number of clinic visits was 2.82 in the texting group vs. 3.65 visits in the non-texting group.
- On average, the drain was removed nearly three days earlier among patients who exchanged texts with their doctors — and was more likely to be removed at the first clinic visit.
Consistent with the benefits of text messaging (ease of use, speed, simplicity), patients’ adherence to medical advice (monitoring and recording…drain output) improved in this study,” said Dr. Roshni Rao of University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, who led the study.
The benefits accrue to doctors, as well, since they can respond to patients on the go, cut down on extended, off-topic conversations and put the resulting time saved toward consults, marketing and other practice-building activities.
At the same time, as thousands of patients at RealSelf.com have confirmed, after-care follow-up constitutes a major component in patients’ reviews of their providers. Responding to those patients via the phone they have in their purse, pocket or hand demonstrates that you still do — although you should probably forgo the IM-style lingo.
1. Understand — and explain — the limitations of the medium
Given that text messages are typically limited to 140 characters, they’re obviously inappropriate for in-depth medical discussions. It’s incumbent upon doctors to explain to patients what texting can and cannot be used for and to limit communications to appropriate times and subjects.
2. Understand the nature of the network
While most text messages are encrypted in transit, they’re available to anyone who sees your phone, which can become a major concern if you leave your phone unattended or lose it. At the very minimum, make sure your phone is password protected and configured to shut itself off after a few minutes of inactivity.
3. Ensure you’re in compliance with HIPAA and state regulations
The best way to avoid the risk of violating a patient’s privacy is to be proactive. “Doctors should have patients’ explicit written permission to text (or email) one another,” says Jeff Segal, CEO of MedicalJustice.com. “This can be done at the time of their first visit – or before a surgical procedure.”