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For secure messaging, healthcare shouldn't rely on texting

Texting is convenient and fun, but it is not the appropriate way for physicians to communicate securely with patients about health matters, such as lab test results.

Here's my rule with secure messaging: Healthcare workers had better skip the texting apps.

Hey, I know, texting is fun. I like to send my friends photos of the cocktails I'm enjoying. My brother texts me messages about long-lost songs he hears on Pandora. Even my 70-plus-year-old parents just got into it.

But do I want my doctor texting me about my lab results? Nope.

The whole texting format just doesn't seem to promote secure messaging, healthcare or otherwise. Bang out a quick message, hit send and wait for a reply. Texting is more like a game sometimes, and doesn't reflect the more serious business that medical care should be.

Beware the legal implications

Further, it's not difficult to imagine Doctor X texting the wrong info to the wrong patient by accident. It's hard to believe physicians would save patients' names as contacts in their mobile devices, which leaves docs or assistants typing out numbers on a keypad.

As discussed in our new handbook, Get the Message: Why Secure Texting Matters, ensuring secure messaging in healthcare facilities is a chore, and it's not necessarily because of the technology. As contributor David Weldon explains, a sizable part of the challenge is simply educating people in the medical industry -- from the CEO on down -- that it is inappropriate and perhaps illegal to text clinical information between parties.

Do I want my doctor texting me about my lab results? Nope.

SearchHealthIT reporter Shaun Sutner delves further into the latter topic, issuing a warning about texting protected health information. He rounds up some tips from a healthcare lawyer about how to avoid related HIPAA problems with these types of communications.

Columnist Reda Chouffani ends the handbook with interesting data theft figures from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights. One chart shows the recurring risk of healthcare information breaches from portable devices, such as phones, laptops and tablets. Hundreds of thousands of patients have fallen victim to records stolen via these devices.

Better idea for secure messaging: Healthcare portals

No one would text someone a credit card number for obvious reasons, and health data should receive no less security treatment. You want to text someone about the weather? Fine. Need to find out what time to come over for dinner? Sure.

But texting cholesterol levels from a screening? In such cases, skip the text and save that discussion for a one-on-one conversation or a message from a secure portal.

How has your organization handled the issue of texting by clinicians? Let me know by email at [email protected] or reach me on Twitter: @Scott_HighTech.

Next Steps

Secure links sent to patients' phones

Text messaging is good for patient reminders

Providers must prepare for HIPAA audits

Dig Deeper on Electronic health records privacy compliance