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Sep 18 2014   10:58AM GMT

Secure texting in healthcare: Four emerging trends

Posted by: adelvecchio
HIPAA compliance, secure messaging, secure text messaging, texting

1411054863_bio-big-barreauGuest post by Jose Barreau, M.D., CEO and co-founder of Doc Halo

As new technology erases many of the fears that providers had about data privacy, text messaging is growing as a form of communication in healthcare.

With a secure texting system such as the Doc Halo app, physicians exchange information about their patients while staying compliant with HIPAA and other regulations. That’s good news for providers and patients alike because it improves the quality and efficiency of healthcare, but it’s really only the beginning. Much more opportunity awaits.

Text messaging has become one of the most popular ways to communicate in nearly every walk of life. Over time, the medium will become central to many of the interactions that patients have with the healthcare system.

Here are a few emerging uses of texting in healthcare:

Provider-patient communication

One key to excellent healthcare is open communication between providers, staff members, and patients. The brief moments they spend face-to-face in an exam room allow for only a snapshot of how the patient is doing and how well their treatment is working. Continuing dialogue outside of the clinic leads to more comprehensive care, but hectic schedules on both sides often make that difficult to achieve by phone call. Text messaging is a quick and convenient way for doctors and staff to answer questions, provide guidance and check patients’ progress. Recent analysis done by the University of Connecticut found that patients who texted with their providers were more apt to follow their medication routines. Current secure texting technology enables healthcare providers to take part in this type of exchange while avoiding the risk of a HIPAA violation.

Public health

Text messaging is not limited to one-on-one communication. Healthcare providers can use multi-recipient texting to help large groups of people at once. Such communication has the power to promote behavioral changes, such as guiding patients to choose healthier foods or avoid tobacco. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that texting may be a good way to reach teens with messages of violence prevention.


Texting as part of public health communication does not need to consist strictly of one-way exchanges. It can be geared toward back-and-forth discussion. That concept has led to a new spin on an old concept: the text crisis hotline. As the New York Times reported earlier this year, “Texting has become such a fundamental way to communicate, particularly among people under 20, that crisis groups have begun to adopt it as an alternative way of providing emergency services and counseling.” Advantages of text hotlines over telephone versions include privacy and the ability for users to save conversations to review later. Texting is being used by groups operating hotlines for depression, suicide and other issues.


One challenge of conducting clinical research trials is recruiting enough participants. Another is keeping them involved over the weeks, months or years it can take to complete the study. Text messaging can help in both cases. It’s an excellent way to reach out initially, and it allows researchers to unobtrusively keep in touch with patients and provide them reminders of what steps to take next or when to return to the clinic or lab.

Texting in healthcare is currently focused on providers communicating with each other. That’s an important use, but it represents only part of what texting will eventually mean for the industry and the people who depend on it.

The future of texting will be far broader as physicians and others use it to increase patients’ engagement with the healthcare system. Efforts now underway will unlock the medium’s potential to improve care.

About the author:

As chief executive officer of Doc Halo, Dr. Barreau leads Doc Halo’s development team and operations. He is one of the original founders of the ‘Doc Halo’ HIPAA-compliant, real-time secure text messaging communication system. The desire to exchange information quickly and securely with his healthcare colleagues led to the development of the Doc Halo app. Dr. Barreau is Board-Certified in internal medicine, hematology and medical oncology. He completed his fellowship in hematology – oncology at the University of Cincinnati in Cincinnati, Ohio and sub-specializes in breast cancer treatment. As the medical director of one of Cincinnati’s largest cancer centers, Dr. Barreau works to expand the use of multidisciplinary clinics, which will improve the quality of cancer care through better physician-to-physician communication. Among his many Awards and Recognitions include the recognition as a ‘2013 Health Care Hero’ award presented by the Cincinnati Business Courier.

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