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Mobile Healthcare Communications Shift Toward Messaging

News  |  By  
   April 25, 2017

HIPAA-compliant options are helping healthcare systems relay important information using familiar platforms and devices.

Websites, patient portals, and lower-tech communications such as interactive voice response outreach still dominate the healthcare industry. The industry has been slow to wake up to the societywide tectonic shift to mobile messaging as a preferred communication mode, both from provider to provider and from provider to patient.

Indeed, to turn the old Marshall McLuhan adage on its head, the message is the medium. According to a 2015 study from Juniper Research, instant messages (IM) sent on platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Snapchat were poised to overtake email as the most popular digital communication channel.

Physician to Physician

Secure mobile messaging has made its biggest progress so far in connecting physicians to other physicians and healthcare system staff. "It's really about solving workflows for folks who are very busy," says Ed Ricks, MHA, vice president and chief information officer of the acute care, 180-staffed-bed Beaufort Memorial Hospital in Beaufort, South Carolina.

When Beaufort began its mobile messaging initiative four years ago, staff were at the mercy of voice mail and phone tag. "It leads to frustration, and it's just not [an] efficient workflow," Ricks says.

In response, staff had—without management guidance—begun using consumer-grade mobile messaging embedded in the consumer devices they carried. "They went to their devices and were texting each other, because it worked really well," Ricks says. "The challenge is it wasn't secure from a HIPAA perspective. We had protected health information sometimes being texted back and forth.

"A lot of people would say, 'Oh, we've got it solved. We've got a policy that says we prohibit texting of PHI.' For us, that's like sticking your head in the sand. It really doesn't solve the problem."

In response, Beaufort implemented Imprivata's Cortext secure messaging technology. "It's gone well," Ricks says. "We wanted a small pilot of six or eight physicians just to get them going at first, and within about two or three weeks, we had 50 or 60 people in our pilot, because it helped them solve workflow and organizational efficiency."

Shortly thereafter, an executive committee of Beaufort's medical staff, an independent body apart from Beaufort management, decided to ask all physicians on staff to use Cortext. "That really helped grow it for us," Ricks says.

Two other management decisions smoothed adoption. "We used to have a policy that said you could never use your personal cell phone at work," Ricks says.

Scott Mace is the former senior technology editor for HealthLeaders Media. He is now the senior editor, custom content at H3.Group.

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