Background: Mobile device technology has revolutionized interpersonal communication, but the application of this technology to the physician-patient relationship remains limited due to concerns over patient confidentiality and the security of digital information. Nevertheless, there is a continued focus on improving communication between doctors and patients in all fields of medicine as a means of improving patient care. In this study, we implement a novel communications platform to demonstrate that instantaneously sharing perioperative information with surgical patients and members of their support networks can improve patient care and strengthen the physician-patient relationship.
Methods: 423 consecutive patients scheduled to undergo elective surgical procedures were offered complimentary registration to a secure, web-based service designed to distribute perioperative updates to a group of recipients designated by each patient via Short Message Service (SMS) and/or email. Messages were created by attending surgeons and delivered instantaneously through the web-based platform. In the postoperative period, patients and their designated message recipients, as well as participating healthcare providers, were asked to complete a survey designed to assess their experience with the messaging system. Survey results were statistically analyzed to determine satisfaction rates.
Results: Of the qualifying 423 patients, 313 opted to enroll in the study. On average, patients selected a total of 3.5 recipients to receive perioperative updates. A total of 1,195 electronic messages were generated for distribution to designated recipients during the study period and delivered to recipients located around the world. There were no documented errors or failures in message delivery. Satisfaction surveys were completed by 190 users of the service (73 %). Respondents identified themselves as either patients (n = 48, 25.5 %), family/friends (n = 120, 63.8 %), or healthcare providers (n = 15, 12 %). Satisfaction with the service was high: 94.2 % of users "enjoyed this software" and and 94.2 % of family/friends "felt more connected to their loved ones during surgery." 92.5 % would "recommend their loved ones sign up for this service". Ninety percent of patients who completed the survey reported "an improved hospital experience".
Conclusion: Digital communications platforms can facilitate the immediate transfer of HIPAA-compliant data to patients and their designees. Such systems can greatly improve the level of communication between physicians, patients, and patients' families and caregivers. All types of users, including healthcare professionals, patients, and their loved ones, recorded high levels of satisfaction. Based on these observations, we conclude that mobile digital communications platforms represent a way to harness the power of social media to enhance patient care.