Smartphones remain communications concern for clinicians

By | November 30, 2018

Concerns persist among clinicians about the sending of unsecured text messages via their smartphones.

Virtually every provider in a healthcare organization, along with researchers, administrators and anyone else in an authorized position that may possess patient information, has a smartphone with them at all times.

These phones offer great convenience for clinicians who can communicate quicker than they had been able to do just a few years ago—and, much of that communication is through texting.

However, how many of these smartphones are secure and comply with HIPAA privacy and security regulations, and how much texting is being done via secure messaging software, asks Lee Milligan, MD, chief medical information officer and emergency medicine physician at Asante, a three hospital delivery system serving 600,000 residents in Southern Oregon and Northern California.

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For years, pagers helped healthcare professionals link with each other and over time these communication devices have been dying out as smartphone adoption has grown. But Milligan wonders how many hospitals have secured their now unused pagers and whether anyone even knows where the pagers and the protected health information they hold are.

In addition, he worries about a doctor who takes a photo of a patient’s wound with a smartphone. While the photo might be clinically useful, Milligan contends that it must be secured.

Lee Milligan, MD

Lee Milligan, MD

An X-ray is a type of photo, but one that is taken and then placed in an information system for save-keeping and retrieval, he observes. However, a photo in a doctor’s hand—or a drawer—is not secure.

“Doctors take pictures but that doesn’t mean they are HIPAA compliant,” Milligan says.

For his part, Milligan uses cloud-based secure messaging software and implores other clinician teams to do the same. His messaging software comes from Halo Communications and other companies also offer comparable products.

“The main thing with secure messaging is I used to worry that doctors and nurses are communicating in a non-HIPAA manner and now I don’t even think about that—it’s off my radar,” he adds.

Regardless of the secure messaging software that an organization acquires, the vendor should assure that all users will be on a single messaging platform.

What is important, Milligan says, is that everyone have compatible messaging software when Stemi blasts occur, with the ability to notify clinicians in the emergency room or elsewhere that a critical patient event has occurred requiring immediate attention.

Healthcare organizations ramping up a secure messaging program should have hospitalists be the first to use the system, as everyone knows the hospitalists, Milligan advises. “Get the hospitalists on board and others will come quickly.”

“Vendors have made it easy to use secure messaging, so there’s no need for unsecured text messaging,” he adds.

What’s needed now, Milligan believes, is education on secure messaging etiquette.

For example, he notes that doctors are increasingly getting frustrated with nurses or other clinicians texting them when they are off duty or on vacation.

Joseph Goedert

Joseph Goedert

Goedert is senior editor of Health Data Management, a SourceMedia publication.

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