Healthcare Enters the Mobile Age with Secure Messaging
I’m often asked if I miss working in a hospital. I spent 21 years as a hospital CIO and my job was more than just a job: it was part of my identity and a way of life. I love my new career – but yes, a part of me will always miss the hospital world, especially all the dedicated and compassionate people who are committed to the delivery of quality healthcare.
On the other hand, I don’t miss certain aspects of my hospital job, such as 2:00 a.m. phone calls advising me that a system is down. Then there are a number of smaller, yet annoying things that I’m happy are no longer part of my daily world – like overhead paging, beepers and sticky notes.
Before the days when everyone carried a smartphone 24X7, overhead paging was the most common way to locate a doctor, contact housekeeping or request a hand with the patient in Room 213. One of the best things about overhead paging is that pages can be heard throughout the whole hospital. The biggest problem is that after a while you became desensitized to pages. Many a time I’d be walking down the hall and hear someone say, “Hey, I think you were just paged!”
Beepers also had their flaws – namely because they required you to scurry about to find a phone. And while the use of sticky notes was popular for a time, too often the notes got unsticky and ended up attaching to the wrong patient’s chart.
Today, thanks to smartphones, many hospitals have retired their overhead paging systems, thrown out beepers and use far fewer sticky notes. When we need someone, all we have to do is send a simple text. Thanks to the smartphone, clinical communications has entered into the mobile age.
Secure Messaging: The Smart Alternative
Unfortunately, most smartphones do not meet Joint Commission security requirements and unsecured text messaging from personal devices is forbidden in healthcare. That doesn’t mean secure messaging is an impossibility – it’s easier to accomplish than you think.
In order to leverage the convenience of text messaging and remain compliant with HIPAA and HITECH regulations, numerous companies offer tools to help. These messaging solutions include built-in technology for authentication, encryption and message auditing to ensure privacy and security.
While the Joint Commission currently does not permit the use of secure messaging for patient orders, secure messaging still provides many important advantages for healthcare organizations, including:
- Improved care coordination – Secure messaging facilitates collaboration and information sharing among care team members so that treatment decisions can be made in real-time. Similarly, secure messaging enhances care coordination during patient transitions because physicians and clinical staff are able to quickly and securely communicate significant patient events to all of the patient’s caregivers.
- Instant consults – With secure messaging, clinicians can send not only text messages, but also images, reports, photos and other attachments. If a physician requires a quick consult with a specialist, clinical documents can be easily and securely shared. Critical care decisions can thus be made faster and appropriate treatment can be initiated sooner.
- Detailed medication management – Delivering the right medications to the right patient at the right time is vital for safe and effective health outcomes. Secure messaging is key to an effective medication management process, especially when urgent medication changes may be required.
- Reduction of errors – Communication errors are not uncommon when messages are delivered verbally, either over the phone or in person. With secure messaging, both parties have an easy-to-access record of the communication, minimizing the risk of misinterpretation of a patient’s current status or of treatment directives, and increasing the likelihood of safe and effective outcomes.
- Decreased length of stay – According to a study conducted by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, patients whose hospital care providers used secure text messaging as a means of communication had a shorter length of stay (LOS) compared to patients whose providers used a standard paging system to communicate.
Transforming Clinical Communications
By leveraging the latest clinical communications technologies, healthcare organizations can safely embrace the mobile realm of regulatory-compliant messaging. Furthermore, with a trusted secure messaging solution in hand, providers can now ensure the best in care collaboration and delivery – and leave the legacy of overhead pagers, beepers and sticky notes behind.