Due to the nature of care required for elderly LTC patients, it has become common for family members to play an integral role in long-term care for patients at home, during the transition between facilities, and even in healthcare decision making. In fact, 65.7 million family members have become caregivers who provide care to someone who has aged, is ill or disabled in the United States.

This support can be extremely beneficial to both the patient and the family, as numerous studies, including a recent report from Johns Hopkins Evidence-Based Practice Center (JHUEPC), have proven. The systematic communication between healthcare providers, patients and their families simply results in better patient care and better peace of mind for the family members involved.

In order to maintain consistent and quality care, high levels of communication are required between the skilled nurses, physicians, as well as the patient’s family who make up the immediate care team. These care team members, whether professional or familial, form a circle of communication surrounding the health of a patient. Since senior patients often have multiple conditions with various specialty providers, collaboration with the appropriate parties is vital to ensure coordination of care.

Methods for efficient communication must be established in order for providers to control the conversation and keep necessary caretakers involved in important medical decisions and informed of any health changes in a timely manner.

Because text messaging has become a preferred means of communication in both professional and personal environments, healthcare teams and family members often rely on native SMS text to collaborate for faster patient care decisions. In fact, 95% of healthcare professionals, physicians and nurses use their smartphones and tablets for work – whether sanctioned or not. However, because healthcare data breaches are up 40% from 2015, skilled nursing facilities need to be confident that the sensitive patient information shared within the circle of care will not be compromised.

To help manage patient health and ensure privacy and security, care teams and family members have the opportunity to leverage enterprise-strength text or messaging platforms that offer secure chat and collaboration, sender control, image and screenshot security as well as ephemerality – features particularly beneficial to long-term and post-acute care providers.

Protecting Communications with LTC Patients

As healthcare providers transition from fee-for-service to value-based care, it’s becoming more important than ever for healthcare providers to streamline communications with the entire care team, all while maintaining HIPAA compliance. Because healthcare is one of the most targeted industries for cyberattacks, it’s equally important to go beyond compliance to truly ensure the integrity of the patient record and protect patient privacy. Therefore, skilled nursing facilities should consider secure messaging platforms that focus first and foremost on the protection of the circle of care communications.

Unlike SMS text messaging, senders communicating via an advanced secure messaging platform have complete control of the communications, images and documents they deliver. Specifically, this means recipients can’t copy, forward or share information, which denies unintended propagation of sensitive patient data outside of the circle of care.

As such, the care team can leverage the efficiency and features of SMS texting, such as group text, without opening up the conversation to risks, vulnerabilities or outside sources. Further, secure messaging platforms available today can prevent images from being screenshotted or stored on devices, and provides the ability to expire messages from devices and message servers based on policy while maintaining a copy of the communication with the patient record in the EHR. These capabilities not only protect patient data, such as test results and diagnostic imaging, but also ensure critical information is immediately and confidentially accessible to the care team.

As technology continues to evolve and advance across the healthcare industry as a whole, long-term and post-acute care facilities will certainly reap the benefits of customized, tailored solutions. In fact, a recent report revealed the marketplace for technology designed to assist aging adults is expected to reach more than $30 billion in the next few years – a 1400 percent increase from today’s market figures. As a result, skilled nursing facilities should proactively leverage modern technology, particularly technology specific to long-term care, in order to improve efficiency of communications, security of patient data and, ultimately, quality of care.

Galina Datskovsky, Ph.D., CRM, FAI, is CEO of Vaporstream®, a leading provider of secure, ephemeral and compliant messaging.

(Article originally published in Mcknight’s by Galina Daskovsky April 10, 2017)