Will You Be Texting Your Doctor Soon?

Sandy Berger, CompuKISS
sandy (at) compukiss.com

Texting has become very popular. We’ve all seen teenagers texting each other across the dinner table or from the front seat of the car to the back seat. You may be surprised, however, to find that older people are also texting and now even some doctors are using texting to communicate with their patients.

Because texting is so popular with the younger crowd, many older folks have started texting just to keep in contact with their children. Over and over again, I have heard the lament, “They (the kids) just don’t answer the phone. The only way I can get them to respond is to text them.”

Yet, when these people start texting, they find it just as useful for everyone they communicate with. Texts are less intrusive than phone calls. You don’t feel forced to run and answer the phone, you can deal with a text whenever you like. With a text, you don’t disturb a person who happens to be sleeping because he is in a different time zone. And you don’t disturb him during an important meeting, but you still get your message across. Two other advantages are that texting is faster than phoning and text messages are archived on your cell phone so you can search for previous conversations.

The newer cell phones make texting easy. With on-screen keyboards and predictive text, you can tap out a message quickly and easily. If you don’t like to type, you can speak your message and have the phone type it out for you will pretty good results.

Although some predicted that texting would die out with the proliferation of smart-phones, that doesn’t seem to have happened. Texting does not use data, so it is often cheaper than using email on a cell phone. Also, several large cellular providers now offer free texting with their share plans, making it a very cost-effective method of communications.

Kids are still texting, and older people are also texting. In fact, in the future, you may even text with your doctor. If you think about it, texting is a quite suitable way to communicate with a doctor.

My conversations with several doctors indicate that they are happy to embrace texting patients but there are several hurdles to overcome before texting between physicians and patients can become routine.

Dr. Adam Schaffner, a New York City plastic surgeon, who specialized in aesthetic plastic surgery of the face, breast and body has been texting to communicate with his patients for several years. He says that “texting promotes comfort for the patient.” In his practice, post-operative patients who used texting to communicate with him fared better than others. He says, “This type of access (texting) empowers patients and is of great benefit during the immediate post-operative period.” He also finds texting a great way to start a necessary conversation with patients and found that patients who texted him had a reduced number of office visits. This, in effect, could reduce the cost of health care.

Although Dr. Schaffner finds texting “extremely beneficial”, he sees several hurdles to this type of texting becoming commonplace in the medical industry. The first is that the time spent texting is currently not billable or covered by insurance. So doctors who are currently taking advantage of the benefits of texting are doctors in fields like plastic surgery and concierge medicine whose main patient base is not covered by insurance.

Second is the investment of capital needed to implement secure texting platforms to comply with HIPAA laws brought on by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Because of this individual doctors and even most medical clinics are still not embracing texting. Besides offices like Dr. Schaffner’s, you will only find doctor-patient texting in large University hospitals that have more technology funding available.

There is little doubt that many of us will be tapping out texts for years to come. Perhaps we will be texting to improve our health as well as to improve communications.

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