Make physician texting HIPAA-compliant

By Dodge Communications on November 15th, 2012

There is no doubt that texting is widely preferred by many generations when it comes to personal communication today. And why shouldn’t it be? It’s quick, easy and enables multi-tasking (just don’t do it while driving, please!). As texting becomes increasingly popular, many physicians and medical staff are finding various ways to incorporate it into their daily routines, including sending notifications about patients, medication instructions and order clarifications. But, while texting may make certain communications easier for clinicians, it also creates real risks, including potential HIPAA violations.

With the rising popularity not only of texting, but of mobile device use in general, it is essential these tools are secure and protect confidentiality. Luckily, there are a number of ways physicians and medical staff can safeguard against risks, according to a recent article from Medical Office Today:

  • Use a secure text messaging service – Secure text messaging platforms are being created for healthcare organizations and providers to help ensure HIPAA compliance. It’s equally important to remember that all phones being used within an organization must house appropriate encryption software. Otherwise, the information being sent can be accessed by unauthorized individuals.
  • Avoid including patient health information (PHI) whenever possible – Any specific patient information or test results should be left out of a text. If sending appointment or medication reminders, staff should be as generic as possible since the description of the appointment or medication has the potential to land in the wrong hands.
  • Delete after receiving – As a precaution, clinicians should delete any texts received to reduce the risk of unauthorized access to PHI.
  • Review prior to sending – Since texting is a one-dimensional form of communication—lacking facial expressions, body language and vocal inflections—it is easy for the underlying intent to be lost in translation. For example, if a test result requires urgent attention, the importance or severity need to be made clear in the text to the patient. It is just as, if not more, important to make sure nothing has been incorrectly changed due to autocorrect. Such a simple action could mean dire consequences if it were the name of a medication being corrected.

By incorporating these texting best practices, among others, medical staff can continue to make use of this quick and effective mode of communication. For more tips and additional information regarding rules and security standards for physician texting, visit this recent article from Medical Office Today.