Examining the complexity of patient-outpatient care team secure message communication: Qualitative analysis

Holly L Lanham, Luci K Leykum, Jacqueline A Pugh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Background: The value of secure messaging in streamlining routine patient care activities is generally agreed upon. However, the differences in how patients use secure messaging, including for communicating both routine and nonroutine issues, and the implications of these differences in use are less well understood. Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine secure messaging use to extend current knowledge of how this tool is being used in outpatient care settings and generate new research questions to improve our understanding of the role of secure messaging in the patient-provider communication toolbox. Methods: We conducted an in-depth qualitative analysis of secure message threads in 12 US Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinics in south Texas. We analyzed 70 secure message threads with a total of 179 unique communications between patients and their outpatient teams for patterns in communication and secure message content. We used theories from information systems and complexity science in organizations to explain our observations. Results: Analysis identified content relating to 3 main themes: (1) information management, (2) uncertainty management, and (3) patient safety and engagement risks and opportunities. Within these themes, we identified 2 subcategories of information management (information exchange and problem solving), 2 subcategories of uncertainty management (relationship building and sensemaking), and 3 subcategories of patient safety and engagement risks and opportunities (unresolved issues, tone mismatch, and urgent medical issues). Secure messages were most often used to communicate routine issues (eg, information exchange and problem solving). However, the presence of subcategories pertaining to nonroutine issues (eg, relationship building, sensemaking, tone mismatch, urgent issues, and unresolved issues) requires attention, particularly for improving opportunities in outpatient care settings using secure messaging. Conclusions: Patients use secure messaging for both routine and nonroutine purposes. Our analysis sheds light on potentially new patient safety concerns, particularly when using secure messaging to address some of the more complex issues patients are communicating with providers. Secure messaging is an asynchronous communication information system operated by patients and providers who are often characterized as having significant differences in knowledge, experience and expectations. As such, justification for its use beyond routine purposes is limited—yet this occurs, presenting a multifaceted dilemma for health care organizations. Secure messaging use in outpatient care settings may be more nuanced, and thus more challenging to understand and manage than previously recognized. New information system designs that acknowledge the use of secure messaging for nonroutine and complex health topics are needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere218
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Volume20
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 1 2018

Fingerprint

Patient Care Team
Ambulatory Care
Communication
Patient Safety
Information Systems
Patient Participation
Information Management
Uncertainty
Organizations
United States Department of Veterans Affairs
Ambulatory Care Facilities
Patient Care
Outpatients
Delivery of Health Care
Health
Research

Keywords

  • Complexity science
  • Confidentiality
  • Outpatient care
  • Outpatients
  • Patient-physician communication
  • Secure messaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics

Cite this

Examining the complexity of patient-outpatient care team secure message communication : Qualitative analysis. / Lanham, Holly L; Leykum, Luci K; Pugh, Jacqueline A.

In: Journal of Medical Internet Research, Vol. 20, No. 7, e218, 01.07.2018.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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