Healthcare Technology Featured Article

October 29, 2012

HIPAA May Prevent Pediatricians from Taking up SMS Messaging

The University of Kansas School of Medicine recently launched a survey to determine where the pulse of pediatricians was in terms of contact methods. They presented the findings of said survey, covering 106 physicians in pediatric hospital settings, at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and those findings brought out some very new -- not to mention a bit controversial -- results about what pediatricians preferred in terms of keeping in touch with hospital staff.

For years, the pager was the weapon of choice for pediatricians wishing to stay in contact with hospital staff. But in an unexpected turnaround, SMS messaging actually surpassed the hospital-issued pager by a score of 27 percent of respondents for texting to 23 percent for pagers. 21 percent, meanwhile, favored face-to-face conversation, and fully 57 percent had either sent or received a work-related text message. 90 percent of respondents further elaborated that they "regularly used a smartphone," while 96 percent sent text messages to someone, either at work or outside of work. 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

While there are certainly plenty of advantages that come with such a concept -- like the ability to store said texts and also retrieve them later for further analysis as needed -- there is a growing issue involved in using SMS messaging: security. Only 10 percent of survey respondents said that their hospitals offered some measure to encrypt text messages. 27 percent of the respondents had received information that would be considered protected, and fully 41 percent -- nearly half -- indicated at least some level of concern about the interaction between said text messages and various HIPAA standards.

Since the problem involved is one of technology, it's interesting to note that there are likely technological solutions. If 10 percent of hospitals are offering encryption software for text messages, as the survey identifies, then it's a fair bet that that encryption complies with HIPAA rules. After all, why offer the encryption capability if it doesn't mesh? Some programs even offer texting that meets HIPAA standards.

There are plenty of advantages associated with using text messaging in a pediatric setting, but it's also quite clear that there are more than a few pitfalls involved too. Working around these potential problems may not be so difficult, and the end result will hopefully prove to be a communication method that's rapid, efficient, secure, and ultimately beneficial for the patients.

Edited by Rich Steeves

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