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Thoughts, comments, news, and reflections about healthcare IT from Microsoft's worldwide health senior director Bill Crounse, MD, on how information technology can improve healthcare delivery and services around the world.

Secure physician to patient e-mail communication for the rest of us

Secure physician to patient e-mail communication for the rest of us

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Bill Crounse 2007 03Today’s savvy healthcare consumers increasingly expect that physicians should be able and willing to communicate with them electronically.  Telephone tag and snail mail just don’t cut it anymore.  In fact, they haven’t for some time now.  Most patients would like to receive e-mail communication from their providers.  The challenge is that physicians, even if they are willing to send e-mail, are often prohibited from doing so because they don’t have a way to send mail containing personal health information that is both private and secure.  For very good reasons, doctors are reticent to use the kind of web-based, free e-mail services that consumers use every day.

imageFor patients receiving care from doctors who are affiliated with large clinics and integrated networks, e-mail communication is often possible today.  That is because these kinds of organizations often have the resources to develop web portals (often supplied by their electronic medical record vendor) that support secure, physician to patient electronic communication.  However, that scenario applies to only a minority of today’s doctors.  About 80 percent of physicians in the US work in small group practices consisting of ten providers or less.  60 percent of US doctors practice in groups of 5 or less physicians.  These practices often cannot afford the IT infrastructure and other resources needed to develop and maintain a secure web portal solution that supports physician to patient e-mail communication. 

HealthVault_185x45Now, there is an answer. During a Health & Human Services event in Washington, D.C., today, Microsoft announced a new encrypted e-mail functionality for Microsoft HealthVault, which allows clinical partner solutions to send messages to patients based on security protocols set forth by the Office of the National Coordinator’s (ONC’s) Direct Project. Through this offering, every HealthVault record will be able to automatically accept mails directly from healthcare providers. Initial partners include MedPlus and VisionShare Inc., which have integrated the new service with their solutions to help clinical users secure messages they send to patients.

imageThrough this functionality, an encrypted copy of an individual’s clinical information can be electronically transmitted to a patient’s new e-mail address created within Microsoft HealthVault, where it is automatically saved to the patient’s HealthVault account as part of their longitudinal personal health record. The service may be used to read or download the information. Direct Project messaging with security-enhanced technologies enables clinical solution providers to meet Phase One Meaningful Use requirements for the Medicaid EHR Incentive Program by providing patients with their health information, as well as proposed Phase Two requirements, which call for secure online patient messaging.

Finally, there’s an option for secure physician to patient e-mail communication—an option “for the rest of us”.  For those of you who may be attending the HIMSS 2011 meeting in Orlando, Florida, February 20th to 24th, there will be demonstrations of Microsoft HealthVault encrypted e-mail presented by MedPlus and VisionShare at the Interoperability Showcase.  We hope to see you there.  For more information about the Direct Project and the announcement from Microsoft HealthVault, click here.

Bill Crounse, MD                           Senior Director, Worldwide Health                    Microsoft

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