FORT SILL, Okla. (April 11, 2013) -- Reynolds Army Community Hospital at Fort Sill has implemented a new way for patients and medical providers to communicate with each other.

Developed by Army Medical Command (MEDCOM), and officially known as the Army Medical Secure Messaging Service (AMSMS), the new system uses a commercial Web-based program that allows health care providers and patients to privately send messages and information between each other through a secure link, similar to secure banking Web sites.

"This is essentially an instant messaging system, where patients will have direct access to providers here at the hospital, either doctors like myself or our nurses," said Dave Anderson, family practice physician at RACH. "If patients have a question or concern, or they want to refill a prescription, they can send us a secure message. And that's going to be a lot faster, because it is not limited to 9 to 5 or whatever our hours are. If it's after work they can send us a message.

"Likewise, we can contact them any time, say we get lab results or a report on their X-rays or something like that, we can send them a message saying 'your labs are normal' or 'your blood sugars are high and we need to see you.' It's just going to speed things up and make it easier to take advantage of modern technology," he said.

Anderson points out they already have an electronic records management system called AHLTA (Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application), which is universal throughout the military.

"AHLTA is digital record-keeping for typical patient care - office visits, check-ups, tests and such, no matter where they are, even when Soldiers are overseas. And, we are ahead of our civilian counterparts in that respect," Anderson said.

Previous communication between patients and providers involved telephone consults, and if that couldn't solve of the medical issue, the patients would have to come in and spend an hour and a half to two hours waiting to see their provider. The old system also meant nurses spent a lot of their time returning phone calls instead of providing patient care.

This new secure email system is a more efficient way of communicating with patients, and is for medical information only. Messages do not go to the patient's regular email account, but are available through a secure site that only the patient and their health care team can access. The system is more secure than telephone calls or regular email, and is fully compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA.

Army Medicine began implementing the AMSMS program in 2012 by issuing 2,000 licenses to primary care clinics at 48 military treatment facilities. Since then more treatment facilities have been licensed, including RACH. The ultimate goal is to license an additional 5,000 primary and specialty clinics (orthopedics, ob-gyn, etc.) by 2014.

"We have been running this system over the past month or so, and all patients have to do is say they want to be part of it. They can call our front desk, and we will add them to our list. We then send them an email, and it will automatically set up the system on their home computer. After that, they can send messages back and forth to us," said Anderson. "As we are seeing patients we are signing them up, and little by little we are building up our list."

The secure messaging system allows providers to send health education information specifically tailored to a patient's medical profile. It can also notify a patient when there are changes concerning medication they are taking. If there is a conflict with another medication they are taking, the system can advise them to stop taking the medication and see their provider as soon as possible.

"At Reynolds we've always been pretty good at preventive medicine, but with this we are going to be able to communicate with patients better. We can collect all of the patients who need a procedure such as mammograms or colonoscopy, or patients with high blood pressure who haven't done their lab tests for a while, and we can send out a mass email to remind them," Anderson said.

The secure messaging system is for routine care issues only and is not intended to answer urgent care questions. Patients with critical care needs should go to the nearest emergency room.

RACH patients who are interested in participating in the secure instant messaging system can contact their primary care provider or nurse at the hospital and ask to be added to the list.