Asynchronous Messaging in Health Care

As I mentioned in my last post, communication is a major part of the next evolutionary step in health care, for both patients and physicians.

The next level of communication will be asynchronous messaging, or texting (securely, of course). But creating an entirely new way to access physicians and other services presents challenges to a staunchly established industry. That said, as health economics take us further away from the billable event as the unit of commerce in medicine, better communication will lower the cost of delivering care.

A new front door is needed to create a better access point into a $4 trillion dollar industry. Right now, the only way to access a doctor is to go to the physician’s office, go to urgent care or go to the ER. Over the last decade we have seen a young telemedicine industry begin to offer remote visits to patients, either by phone or video, but rarely with an ability for the same doctor and patient to connect more than once. Doctors are now being reimbursed for telemedicine encounters with their own patients, but these are scheduled appointments, subject to the same backlog as in-office visits and with the same need for simultaneous presence in front of a screen.

Doctors office visits are always problematic for people who work during the week. The video visit industry began to help solve this problem, but can a schoolteacher leave class for a video visit? Can a police officer leave patrol to focus for 10 minutes without interruption at a scheduled time during working hours? In both cases, the answer is, it’s difficult. But can either of them text during irregular gaps in their work day? Absolutely. This is why CirrusMD has created an upgrade to the way people communicate with doctors. The trick is in solving for the economics, and understanding what motivates physicians.

Doctors want to add value to patients, and they also need to be paid a reasonable rate. Through the power of asynchronous messaging, a doctor’s work day becomes more efficient, less expensive, and ultimately more rewarding as patients feel safe in an environment of ongoing access. Ongoing access is important for building trust—both for the doctor who wants to treat certain conditions more liberally (not sending every complaint of abdominal pain or headache into the ER) and for the patient who doesn’t want to go to the ER, but is nervous making that decision in a vacuum. The knowledge that doctor and patient can keep in touch is important for fostering trust, and ultimately for improving outcomes.

At CirrusMD we’re actually seeing people more willing to seek care, and to open up about issues generally hidden as a result of stigma, including depression, anxiety, and STDs. We’re seeing a rapport develop over a very short period of time in the secure messaging environment. A patient who can sit on her couch and text with a physician who is a part of her care team finds that type of access endearing. Quick responses are important in establishing intimacy both with the doctor and with the system who puts a doctor on duty who will respond instantly.

The public is demanding this level of access to care, and healthcare organizations around the country would be wise to listen to their patients as consumers while also meeting the needs of providers.

Blake McKinney, MD