By Erin Tolbert, RN, MSN for MidlevelU.com
While there are plenty of apps out there promising to make my life as a nurse practitioner easier, once downloaded to my phone they go largely unused. Rarely do I calculate pediatric dosages with special programs, rather I go straight for pen and paper. I don't check apps streaming medical news- the last thing I want to do after work is be inundated with more information from the world of medicine. But, this week I stumbled across a true winner in the healthcare app world. PingMD, an app that facilitates patient-provider texting offers real value to NPs.
When I heard about the new PingMD app, I was thrilled that someone had finally come up with a way to bring patient-provider communication into the 21st century. The medical world is notoriously behind technologically and I was excited by the prospect of weaving my favorite form of communication, texting, in with my work. So, I decided to contact the app's creator, neurosurgeon Dr. Gopal Chopra, to get the story behind PingMD. Here's what he had to say about bringing texting to the patient-provider relationship.
What inspired you to develop a way for providers and patients to text?
Dr. Chopra explains that his wife is a pediatrician who initially sparked his idea for the texting app. She described what she saw as "spillover". Office visits with patients are getting shorter and shorter. When patients don't retain the information they get from visiting their healthcare provider, or are unable to reach them during a time of need, they end up in the emergency department. If she had known about the patient's problem, Dr. Chopra feels that she could have prevented the patient from going to the emergency room, and probably answered their question or given them direction for their medical problem in just a few seconds. But, without an easy way to communicate, she is unable to avert unnecessary emergency department visits.
Dr. Chopra also describes the experience in his own clinic. The nurse practitioner in Dr. Chopra's neurosurgery office takes about 80 percent of patient calls. He describes that it only takes this NP about 30 seconds to decide the best course of action for the patient. The problem with patient-provider communication isn't that providers don't know the best course of action for their patients, it’s the communication system that's broken. PingMD, Dr. Chopra's new app solves this problem.
We all know HIPAA is a major barrier to streamlining patient-provider communication. Does PingMD comply with HIPAA?
When I ask this question, Dr. Chopra brings up an excellent point. In order for communication to be secure, it must do so from both the patient and provider's end. This is why texting between patients and providers can be difficult. Even if the provider's phone is secure, the patient's phone may not have necessary privacy and security measures in place. The PingMD app addresses this issue.
PingMD complies with HIPAA regulations through password protection, requiring authentication and encrypting stored information on the end of the patient and provider.
How much does PingMD cost patients? Providers?
PingMD creates obvious value for medical practices, so I decide to get to the bottom-line asking Dr. Copra about pricing. I'm shocked by his reply. The PingMD app is free! Both healthcare providers and patients are welcome to create PingMD accounts free of charge and begin texting.
PingMD does charge for one service. The app has the ability to integrate with electronic medical records recording the text conversation in the patient's personal medical record. This saves you as a provider from going back to record the conversation later, well worth the expense.
Most providers don't like taking calls from patients after-hours. Isn't allowing your patients to text you even more intrusive to your private life?
I think I have thrown Dr. Chopra a zinger here. During my time working as a primary care nurse practitioner, I dreaded hearing my work phone ring. It meant a great deal of work to follow. First, I would talk with the patient, then possibly call a medication in to the pharmacy, followed by opening my laptop to record the interaction...on a Saturday evening. I imagine that by making communication easier, communicating with patients will require even more of my weekend time. Quickly, I see that I am mistaken.
Dr. Chopra explains that texting patients makes being on-call a more palatable prospect. Rather than interrupting your day to answer the phone, PingMD allows you to answer a patient's questions with a simple text message. If your practice pays for PingMD, this message is then integrated into the patient's health record eliminating the need to record the interaction. Texts from patients using PingMD are confined within the app keeping your personal and work-related texts separate. Overall, texting is a more efficient, less invasive way to communicate with your patients than phone.
How have providers seen PingMD improve their practice?
Dr. Chopra says providers of all backgrounds, from primary care to anesthesiology clinics, love to ping. Not only does it make communication with patients easier on the provider-side, it also increases patient satisfaction. Sounds like a win-win situation.
The idea behind PingMD is simple, but seamless patient-provider texting just might revolutionize your practice.