Use Direct Messaging to Share Patient Information Electronically

Under regulations that went into effect in April 2021, physicians must share patient information with each other electronically upon request. The Texas Medical Association Health Information Technology (HIT) Department cautions that tackling these requirements means physicians must use a standardized way to exchange information that’s HIPAA-compliant. 

One way to do that: direct secure messaging, a low-cost electronic communication method similar to email. Unlike email, it is secure and HIPAA-compliant, and allows physicians to exchange protected health information over the internet. DirectTrust, a nonprofit trade alliance and standards body accredited by the American National Standards Institute, accredits providers of direct secure messaging

“Direct messaging streamlines the referral and notification by sending and receiving information in a standardized manner electronically within a physician’s workflow,” explains Manish Naik, MD, medical information officer for Austin Regional Clinic and a member of the TMA’s Committee on Health Information Technology. 

TMA staff says using direct messaging to exchange patient information electronically has several benefits. It allows: 

  • Secure exchange of patient information when sending or receiving referrals;
  • Timely receipt of notifications when a patient has visited the emergency department, or is admitted to or discharged from the hospital; 
  • Automatic extraction and integration of patient data from direct messages into the electronic health record (EHR), reducing burdensome data entry; and
  • Staff time previously spent scanning and reentering information to be freed up for other work.  

To obtain a direct messaging address, physicians can contact entities accredited by DirectTrust. These entities, also known as health information service providers (HISPs), can be EHR vendors or health information exchanges (HIEs).  

Some HISPs may charge a nominal fee, typically $50 to $75 annually, for a direct messaging address. To save money, physicians may start with one address for the entire practice. A person within the office can handle all incoming messages and send them to the appropriate physicians. The staff time saved by not having to reenter information or scan documents will more than make up for the cost of the annual fee.

In Texas, two public HIEs offer direct messaging addresses to Texas physicians:   

  • Greater Houston Healthconnect (GHH) offers direct messaging services via its HISP, Surescripts, for $75 annually per address. For more information or to get set up, email GHH
  • HASA in San Antonio offers secure email-style mailbox direct services for $6 per month and is currently offering the services for free for one year to the first 100 requesters. To have direct fully integrated with the EHR, the cost is $27 monthly and includes other data-sharing available through the HIE. For more information, email HASA

Questions about direct messaging addresses may also be directed to TMA’s HIT Department by calling (800) 880-5720 or by email.

Last Updated On

December 08, 2021

Originally Published On

December 08, 2021