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Prescription for Better Messaging

Advice on clear communications

A Veteran using Secure Messaging in his backyardIf you have a My HealtheVet Premium account, you may have already used Secure Messaging. You know that it's useful to exchange messages with your doctor or health care team. But there are many aspects of Secure Messaging that you might be overlooking.

We talked to a variety of VA health care providers (doctors, nurses, therapists) and their team members. We asked what the best uses of Secure Messaging are – and the best things to avoid. By following their advice, you and your health care team can understand and share your information faster and better.

Benefits of Secure Messaging

Using Secure Messaging is easy and saves you time. You can get online access to your health care team without being put 'on hold.' Some providers we spoke with even prefer Secure Messaging. "It’s the easiest and timeliest way to reach me," said one VA provider. Often, it’s faster than a phone call and prevents playing back-and-forth phone tag.  Within three days (usually within a day), you should receive an initial response to your secure message.

Another provider noted that "Secure Messaging is an excellent primary mode of communication for a Veteran with voice or speech difficulties and who is dependent on a computer to communicate."

Best practices

We asked VA providers what they would like to see patients use the tool for, and a few of their recommendations include:

  • sending and receiving handouts or written materials during video visits

  • sending and receiving questions, information, documents, and instructions

  • discussing appointment options with your health care team

  • sharing attached photos (skin conditions, wound care) with your health care team

One provider said, "Secure Messaging is a great tool for our patients to notify their health care team of new medications, hospitalizations, or changes in their health." If you’ve had a new hip surgery, an allergic reaction, or started taking a new drug, use Secure Messaging to notify your health care team. This keeps them up to date with the whole picture and allows them to give you the best treatment available for your health.

Things to avoid

Providers also commented on a few things that could be done better so they can better assist you. One provider said, "When using Secure Messaging, always start a new message for a new topic." If you’ve been discussing diabetes with your team, but have questions about hearing aids, start a new message. Don’t simply reply to the last one. As health care teams work through their busy schedules to respond, it can be confusing and make it harder to track your conversations when different topics (and needs) are in the same message thread.

Doctors, nurses, and therapists can see your health history in your VA electronic health record. You don’t need to provide a long message with your medical history; when reading your Secure Message, they already have your file available to view and check. Your message can bring them up to date on your situation without recounting every appointment in recent years.

Also, remember Secure Messaging should NOT be used in cases of emergency, such as a wound or chest pains. Dial 911 or go to your nearest hospital for immediate assistance. If you are feeling extreme emotional distress, you can reach crisis counselors 24/7 at the Veterans Crisis Line.

Please vote in our unscientific poll. All responses are anonymous.

What are you most likely to use Secure Messaging for?