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For One Pediatric Practice, mHealth Progress is Small But Significant

Pediatric Associates of Stockton is seeing positive results from an mHealth messaging platform launched last year. They're an example of how connected care doesn't have to be big and splashy to prove its value.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Amid all the talk about low adoption rates and uncertain “tipping points” for telehealth, one point should be made clear: Any provider who finds success with connected care technology is proof that the technology works. And often that success comes in small increments.

At Pediatric Associates of Stockton, telehealth and telemedicine haven’t entered into the conversation just yet. The California-based seven-provider practice isn’t using virtual care, preferring what its operations manager calls the personal touch.

But with most of its patients sporting smartphones, the practice has adopted an mHealth platform for messaging.

“And that’s really making a difference,” says Beth Bettencourt, the clinic’s operations manager.

In April 2017, Pediatric Associates of Stockton added a messaging platform from Solutionreach to its cloud-based phone service to enable staff to send text messages and e-mails to patients. The platform replaced the time-intensive process of having one staff member call every patient to remind him/her of an appointment that day, and enabled the practice to remind patients of important tasks like flu shots and annual physicals and even wish them happy birthday.

Bettencourt says the service appealed to their young, increasingly active patient base, most of whom could receive and respond to messages instantly and much easier than taking a phone call or listening to the answering machine.

“We’re (caring for) newborns so we’re always getting the younger and younger crowds,” she says. “And most of them are living on their smartphones anyways. Nowadays, who doesn’t look at a test message when it comes in?”

As a result, Bettencourt says, the practice saw its no-shows, which average between four on a good day to 10 on a bad day, decrease significantly. This meant that more patients were getting scheduled care on time, or they were scheduling more convenient times for office visits rather than forgetting about them and falling through the cracks.

This also reduced the stress on office staff trying to keep track of patient appointments, and it reduced the time wasted by providers waiting for a patient who didn’t show up.

Bettencourt says the biggest challenge faced by the practice in launching the mHealth platform was in teaching both providers and patients what they could and couldn’t talk about in text messages and e-mails. With HIPAA standards in the background, providers were schooled on how to communicate with patients on their platform without referring to any protected health information (the practice also uses a secure messaging platform for HIPAA-sensitive exchanges).

Another benefit, Bettencourt says, is the ability to push out reminders. Just by sending out quick messages about flu clinics, health and wellness checkups and annual physicals, the practice saw many more parents calling in to schedule those visits. This, in turn, means more patients are getting health and wellness care that their parents might otherwise ignore or overlook – care that could, down the road, translate into improved outcomes.

To be sure, Pediatric Associates of Stockton is charting a very slow and deliberate path down the connected care highway. Bettencourt says the practice isn’t allowing patients to schedule appointments online just yet because providers still want to talk to patients to determine whether that visit needs to be scheduled sooner or later.

But the ease and advantages of an mHealth messaging platform are still apparent, she says. Through these more frequent digital health “touches,” parents are more responsive and receptive to doctor’s suggestions, and they’re more apt to get the care their children need.

In addition, she says, the platform has improved the daily workflow for office staff and providers, giving them less time on the phone and more time focusing on care.

“It’s been great all around,” she says.

And when you can add in a few “Happy Birthday” messages, the days get a little bit brighter.

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