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How Secure Direct Messaging Lowers Out-of-Pocket Patient Costs

As more patients incur high out-of-pocket healthcare costs, they're turning to methods like secure direct messaging to boost their level of care without hurting their wallets.

By Sara Heath

Better communication through secure direct messaging may be the key to helping patients navigating an increasingly financially rigorous healthcare industry.

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Patients are facing the surge of high deductible health plans, incurring on them higher out-of-pocket costs and a disincentive to seek certain healthcare services.

But patients, especially those managing chronic illnesses, still need and want to access care whenever they face a health complication. To reduce high out-of-pocket costs while still getting the care they need, patients can turn to their own online engagement to help serve their needs.

Secure direct messaging functions, which are already part of most patient portals, can help patients keep their costs low while keeping their care quality high. Secure direct messaging and email messaging between patients and providers help patients access their care in the right place.

This is a tenet  of providing value-based care. Patients with mild health symptoms that can be treated with easy-to-access over the counter medications may be better served through direct secure message.

“In a lot of cases patients secure message their doctors and they ask, ‘I’ve had this concern about chest pain or a rash that won’t go away, should I come into the office?’” said David Clain, manager at athenaResearch. “A lot of times the answer is no, and you can address a lot of concerns a patient has just through secure messages and they don’t have to come in.”

Such logic works in reverse, too. Doctors can instruct truly urgent cases to come in as soon as possible, helping to reduce the issue before it becomes too catastrophic.

“But in some cases the answer is yes, and sometimes there are rather urgent issues that come up and a cardiologist can say ‘if you’re having chest pains I’d actually like to see you today,’” Clain noted.

Helping the patient get the right care at the right location is very important for patient’s finances, as well as the healthcare system at large.

Research shows that not only does secure direct messaging help patients access care less expensively, but patients want to engage this way.

Patients with higher out-of-pocket healthcare costs are notably more likely to engage with their providers through secure direct messaging over the patient portal, a study in the American Journal of Managed Care says.

In a survey of over 1,000 chronically ill patients, the research team led by Mary Reed, DrPH, determined that several financial factors may influence the extent to which patients contact their doctors through secure email.

A total of 85 percent of patients with high deductible health plans reported selecting secure direct messaging with their providers, while only 63 percent of patients with low deductible health plans reported the same.

Not only did secure direct messaging help patients access care in a less expensive way, but it also had positive effects on their health.

Thirty-two percent of patients primarily using secure direct messaging reported that method of contact improved their overall health. Only 22 percent of those not using secure direct messaging during the test period saw an improvement on their health.

One possible explanation for this is that patients using secure direct messaging may not have otherwise sought any form of guidance on their health. Experts say patients with higher out-of-pocket costs are less likely to access care on their own.

The researchers predicted that this trend toward secure direct messaging will only increase going forward. While there certainly is a convenience factor for patients using secure direct messaging, this method of communication also helps reduce costs for patients with high deductibles.

As noted above, high deductible health plans are becoming more prevalent. As this continues, patients will seek care that is more budget-friendly, or else potentially forego care altogether.

Going forward, providers will need to encourage their patients to utilize their patient portals not just for the informative benefits, but for the communication benefits. If patients and providers can work together to drive positive care outcomes outside of the office, they can help achieve industry goals of delivering quality care to the largest amount of patients possible.

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