Docs, it's time to embrace online chat and texting with patients

At February's mHealth Initiative networking conference in pre-"snowpocalypse" Washington, Dr. Andrew Barbash, neurosciences director at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md., spoke of how he used Google Talk on his Motorola Droid smartphone to communicate by instant message (IM) and even video with fellow clinicians and to tap into the hospital's EMR. It's also a handy tool for the hospital to see which doctors are on call and whether they're immediately available for a quick consult.

A little more than a week ago, I got a demonstration of just how easy this sort of thing is to use. Barbash found me online late at night, as I often am, and IMed me on Google Talk, though this time he was at a desktop computer. We turned on our respective webcams and he showed me how he sometimes follows up with patients by video chat. More importantly, he described the following scenario via the chat window dialogue posted below (the screen names have been changed for the sake of privacy):

* Andrew Barbash: so at 1130 pm my droid phone chimes because the ER saw I was asleep but avail for emergencies.
They have a guy with a stroke improving. I text back, get name, check CT online, then i ping the video, talk with him and his family and we make a decision. I get them to write down their email address and show it to me on the video

* Neil Versel: wow

* AB: i send them followup note, put note in EMR, email the doctor rounding tomorrow, and back to sleep

* NV: sure beats faxing

* AB: this is THE solution to a lot of continuity of care stuff.

In total, the chat took about 10 minutes. The consult took even less time--and very likely led to a better outcome. At the very least, it gave doctor and family alike a little peace of mind before they turned in for the night.

This software is free. The text messaging is inexpensive. It's fast and easy to use for all parties involved. Doctors, what's your excuse for not doing so? Patients, why aren't you demanding this kind of access to your caregivers? - Neil

Don't forget: I'll be hosting a free FierceMobileHealthcare webinar, Is 802.11n the magic pill to deliver high-quality VoIP? next Wednesday, March 24, at 2 p.m. EDT. Click here to register.