Health IT, Patient Engagement

Can a messaging service for patient communication with front office staff eliminate time suck?

WELL Health’s Messenger service helps healthcare practices send photos, videos, paperwork and pre and post visit instructions to patients, and have group chats with other members of the care team.

WELL Health imageA mobile health company has developed what it says is a HIPAA compliant messaging system between patients and front office staff to speed up the process of filling out medical forms online to help physician practices and hospitals improve communication with patients.

In an interview with WELL Health Co-founder and CEO Guillaume de Zwirek, the former Google product marketing manager said it had been impractical to develop a messaging tool between healthcare providers and patients until the Federal Communication Commission moved to amend the Telephone Consumer Protection Act for healthcare last year. Specifically, the FCC created an exemption applying to robocalls and texts to wireless numbers for things like appointments and exams, confirmations and reminders, hospital pre-registration instructions and pre-operative instructions and post discharge follow-up, to name a few. The facilities are not permitted to charge the recipient.

It’s been well documented that sending text messages to patients to remind them of upcoming appointments can boost attendance. Zwirek cited research from Pew that texting is 10 percent more popular than calls or email. He also noted data from MobileSquared that 90% of messages are read in the first 3 minutes, so they are addressed with a certain amount of urgency.

WELL Messenger is designed to help healthcare practices send photos, videos, paperwork and pre and post visit instructions to patients, and have group chats with other members of the care team. Content can also be automated to send to patients at any interval before or after a visit, or when patients are added to the practice. It also integrates with NextGen, Epic and other electronic health record providers. Well interacts with patients on the messaging app of the patients’ choosing. Practices pay WELL a subscription fee for the service.

Although Well Messenger is entering a pretty competitive market, it sees itself as significantly different from companies like TigerText, Impravata, and Voalte, which seek to improve workplace communications. He noted that hospitals and clinics frequently have more several front office support staff for every doctor to chase up patients to either follow-up with appointments or chasing up The problem is that these can be cost intensive and have poor response rates.

“We are really offloading the inbound volume that would have happened on the phone and instead it is taking place in text messaging. What’s nice is when we roll out, it’s not like we are shutting down phone lines.”

Co-founder and COO Joe Tischler previously served as a consultant for EMR providers such as NextGen and eClinicalWorks. He has also worked as the CIO of Metro Imaging and as a managing partner at Core Health IT.

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“We don’t replace patient portals,” de Zwirek said. “We see ourselves as a communication platform between physician visits replacing phones and letter interactions.”

Although he acknowledged some hospitals are doing a better job than others when it comes to portals, he maintains that relatively few people are using portals’ realtime messaging capabilities.