Use of Text Messaging in Healthcare Grows Despite Risk of HIPAA Violations

24 Jun

Text messaging has become a way of life and a primary means of communication, so it is no surprise that the use of text messaging in healthcare has been growing. Even our doctors are now sending us texts regarding prescriptions and other matters concerning our health care. For many, this type of communication is well received and easy to engage in. But with the new convenience comes the need to make sure that mobile messaging is Heath Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliant.

Use of Text Messaging in Healthcare Requires Extra Precautions

The Pew Research Center says that almost two thirds of people in the United States own smartphones, which means there’s a good chance that patients and doctors are used to communicating via text messaging. Both of these groups likely feel comfortable exchanging SMS messages in the course of discussing patient orders and treatment. But in a healthcare setting, SMS service takes on extreme importance. 

The Joint Commission recently said it’s acceptable to use text messaging to submit patient orders, within certain parameters, but it cautions that critical steps are needed to remain HIPAA compliant. Firstly, it says that in order for text messaging regarding health to be compliant, people must be happy with the service. According to Al Villarin, MD – a CMIO at IT consulting firm Burwood Group – compliance begins with a contract between the clinical and the technical. To remain compliant, any healthcare tool must fit easily into an existing workflow and be well received by everyone in the loop.

Burwood Group executive director Tim Needham, who oversees healthcare solutions delivery practice, agrees and says that new communications systems succeed only if they can involve the entirely of the participants. Physicians, therefore, must only use technology – in this case SMS services – if they deliver value and are efficient. Otherwise, healthcare practitioners and patients will revert back to the default methods that they know.

 

Careful Consideration of Text Messaging Services Is needed

To remain compliant, it’s important that healthcare facilities and professionals carefully screen potential SMS services to make sure they offer secure communication systems and ease of use. Thankfully, most vendors in this area have focused on security and ease – and therefore HIPAA compliance – for the last few years. They’ve developed tools that seem to be well adopted across departments. Still, finding those sms services that the entire industry takes hold of is another story. This has been difficult; the potential is there to make healthcare communications more organized for all professionals and patients.

As part of the HIPAA compliance evaluation process, it’s imperative that each hospital and physician’s office take the time to analyze the effectiveness of its mobile communications – and then make necessary adjustments if needed. A tool is only as good as its ability to serve the people, and compliance is most likely found when it can be proven that all parties feel satisfied with the service used.

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