Meaningful Use Driving Secure Messaging Use, but Challenges Remain

July 2, 2014 in News

The use of secure messaging between doctors and patients is increasing, but experts say various challenges have hindered more widespread adoption of the technology, Modern Healthcare reports.

Details of Increased Use

According to Modern Healthcare, several reports indicate that use of secure messaging data has increased. For example:

  • The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT found that about 41% of hospitals were able to send and receive secure messages in 2013; and
  • CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics found that about 40.4% of physicians said they have used secure messaging and about 8.4% said they had the necessary technology but had not used it.

According to Modern Healthcare, experts say that the meaningful use program has driven the overall increase in secure messaging. Under the 2009 economic stimulus package, providers who demonstrate meaningful use of certified electronic health records can qualify for Medicaid and Medicare incentive payments. A core requirement of meaningful use Stage 2 is that 5% of patients use secure messaging to communicate with the attesting provider.

Meanwhile, an internal survey in 2013 found that new members of Kaiser Permanente Northern California reported higher satisfaction rates and were more likely to re-enroll if they used secure messaging, according to a study. The survey also linked secure messaging use with better quality care and improved logistics.

Terhilda Garrido, Kaiser’s vice president of health IT transformation and analytics, said that patients likely substituted secure messaging for office visits for low-acuity conditions, such as a cough or rash, and to check in about their chronic conditions.

Barriers to Adoption

Despite the increased use of secure messaging, experts say several challenges remain to great adoption of the technology, according to Modern Healthcare.

Rhian Gregory, senior manager of product marketing at athenahealth, said physicians have cited office culture as a potential obstacle for widespread adoption. He said, “[I]t’s about making sure your front-office staff is routinely collecting email addresses for every patient when they come in, and then making sure they’re actually sending out invitations to register for the portal, to get them more engaged.”

In a study, Tara Bishop, an internist at Weill Cornell Medical College, found that the fee-for-service model was another potential roadblock to using secure messaging. The study found that physicians receive low or no reimbursements for using the technology.

Bishop also found that secure messaging “didn’t necessarily lighten the workload of physicians” because its ease of use can create an “onslaught of communication” that overwhelms providers.

Bishop said that changes in the physician reimbursement system, as well as the continued efforts to comply with meaningful use requirements, likely will facilitate greater use of secure messaging (Tahir, Modern Healthcare, 7/1).

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