A limo driver has been diagnosed with high blood pressure and put on medications to control it. His doctor wants to know how he’s doing but phoning him does not work.
He simply never answers while he’s driving. And by the time he’s off the clock at 6 p.m., the office is closed.
These days, though, his doctor knows that the driver is taking his medication as prescribed because he chose to stay in touch via phone texts.
The driver is one of 120 patients being treated for high blood pressure that a Sharp Healthcare team is supporting in a pilot program that communicates by text messaging.
The program, which began in December, is funded by a grant from the National Institutes for Health and organized by Be There San Diego.
The Sharp team members are upbeat about the use of texting, though data are still being collected. Clinicians are able to communicate with their patients more quickly and consistently and deliver and evaluate treatment more efficiently. All of this has the potential to save money for the healthcare system, they say, and improve the patient experience.
“Texting is an amazing way to communicate,” says Sarah Knight, a senior care specialist who answers many of the texts.
Here’s how the pilot works: Patients diagnosed with high blood pressure but otherwise in stable condition are given an option of how they want to stay in touch with a care team that will monitor their progress.
Scott Heimer, the project manager, said some patients prefer phone communication while others prefer texting. Those who opt for texting decide what day they want to receive the texts and in what window of time.
Texting is ideal for individuals who can’t answer the phone, for any number of reasons, or don’t want to, said Stephanie Beall, a health coach also on the care team.
The pilot program evaluates how each patient is adhering to the Be There San Diego Cardiovascular Risk Bundle.
Each week, an automated program sends patients texts with four or five questions tailored for them, including asking for their latest blood pressure reading. The patients text their answers back and they can ask questions and send comments.
Those answers are displayed on a dashboard, which a team member can answer in real time.
If a patient is keeping up with his regimen, a team member may text back, “Good job!” or “Keep up the good work!”
The human response allows patients to “to know that this is a person contacting them and not a robot,” Heimer said.
When patients text back with a blood pressure reading out of the normal range, or say they have a new symptom or are not feeling well, a care team member texts them back immediately to find out more. Or they refer the matter to the appropriate clinician, who contacts the patient quickly, avoiding hours-long delays in getting a callback.
Some patients, suffering an anxiety attack or another mental condition, text asking for help. They are referred to a social worker for swift follow up.
Questions and problems are addressed efficiently. And this efficiency saves staff time and cost, says Andrea Norton, the registered nurse who serves as the Lead Hypertension Disease Manager on the Sharp team.
She sees the role of texting growing over time in health care. Sharp, in fact, is managing several other texting programs.
“It’s going to have a huge impact,” Norton said. “People don’t have time to talk on the phone and write things down. I can send them a text message and they love it.”