What comes to mind when you hear the term “Health Information Exchange (HIE)?”  For me, it means an opportunity for better care coordination — which ultimately results in better outcomes, improved clinical and administrative efficiency, and reduced costs.  But I’ve been around healthcare long enough to recognize that to many others, “HIE” may possibly conjure up negative notions, like “complicated” or “expensive.”

Enter the Direct Project, an “on-ramp to HIE”. Put forth by the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology, Direct Messaging offers providers a cost-effective means for securely exchanging health information, assisting them in their efforts to satisfy Meaningful Use. Direct Messaging is a web-based email inbox and address that enables clinical professionals to send and receive healthcare information and attachments in a highly-secure and encrypted manner. The value of Direct Messaging in and of itself is clear. It’s a national standard for highly-secure, user-to-user e-mail, which means that providers can easily push messages and attachments not only to each other, but to patients as well.

Here at AT&T, we incorporated Direct Messaging into our AT&T Healthcare Community Online (HCO) care collaboration and HIE platform and have been delivering two benefits right from the start:

1. Direct to the user, integrated into the clinical workflow

Integrating the Direct Messaging service into the provider’s clinical workflow – as the sender of a Direct Message or as the recipient. Because Direct Messaging is built into our core HIE framework and is API-driven, we can integrate it with existing systems.  For example, extracting the contents of a Direct Message and incorporating it into an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) or patient registry.

2. Building block to other value-added services

Even more exciting though is Direct Messaging provides another way for both providers and consumers to take advantage of additional innovative products available within our AT&T ForHealth practice area. For example, they can automatically distribute a summary of a virtual care (telehealth) episode to the patient’s care team, exchange medical images accessed from our cloud-based, vendor-neutral storage service, or incorporate Direct Messaging with our Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) toolsets to facilitate a transitions of care strategy…the list goes on.

Despite the fact that there may be varying perspectives on HIE, provider organizations are searching for better ways to engage their patients. There are many reasons for this. Some may be related to Meaningful Use or new pay-for-performance delivery models. Others simply involve improving the patient experience and helping with patient loyalty. And one of the ways to do that is to reach them how they want to be reached.

What’s the fastest and easiest way to reach someone? If you’re like me, the answer is a text message. Patients are the same way. With Direct Messaging, a clinician can send a patient’s test results to them via a highly-secure email. When integrated into a platform like AT&T Global Smart Messaging Suite, that Direct Message can be converted and sent as an encrypted SMS text to help get health information where it needs to go securely and quickly.

What possibilities can you see with Direct Messaging within healthcare’s new frontier?