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Risks and rewards of texting in a health care environment

February 22, 2017
Health IT
From the January 2017 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

By Arun Mirchandani

As provider organizations begin to embrace the idea of texting patient-centric clinical communications, many hospitals and health systems are torn between the increased speed and convenience texting provides, versus the risks it could pose in terms of security, continuity of care and workflow disruption. It’s important that provider organizations address new communication methods systemically and incorporate new channels into a broader clinical communication and collaboration platform, instead of using a piecemeal approach that could result in fragmented patient information and disjointed — rather than coordinated — care.

Why texting apps just won’t cut it
Health care is inherently collaborative, a dynamic that isn’t fostered by using a texting app downloaded from an app store. There’s no way to ensure that texted clinical information goes to the right place without certain built-in mechanisms for interaction, which disqualifies these types of texting apps for use in the health system environment. In marked contrast, an enterprise communication and collaboration platform can facilitate the more robust workflows required to achieve clinical collaboration, including texting clinically relevant care information. In tandem, it also enables an unbroken flow of communication about a patient from one care setting to the next. With such a platform, caregivers can communicate across different devices, including smart-phones, tablets, PCs and voice-activated, hands-free communication badges.

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What providers really need
An enterprise communication and collaboration platform should include features such as a continuously updated master directory that identifies who is authorized and available, and interoperability with other clinical systems, including electronic health records (EHRs). The platform should offer security, accuracy, traceability and accessibility to ensure that the right information about the right patient is received by the right person. Key considerations to keep in mind when it comes to implementing technology for texting any clinically-driven collaboration or notification workflow include:

Security. Protecting patient data is paramount. Many texting vendors will claim to meet stringent security guidelines, but hospitals and health systems need to seek concrete evidence that these vendors really understand and are addressing today’s security threats. Vendors should show proof of government and commercial security-related certifications and successfully passed third-party audits. Hospitals and health systems should develop best practices that include not just encrypting texted patient care information or including a date and time stamp, but also protocols to ensure clinically relevant information will go to the right person at the right time.

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