Secure Communications Strategies for a Mobile Healthcare Workforce

Secure texting in the healthcare environment should be thought of as one piece of a much larger communications puzzle

Since the first mobile phone call was placed from a New York City street corner in 1973, mobile technology has taken the world by storm. Billions of consumers around the globe use smartphones, for everything from shopping to navigating to communicating in a variety of ways.

In fact, the use of phones for actual talking is on the decline. In 2011, nearly a third of American adults preferred texting to voice calls. In 2015, use of texting by Americans far outweighed voice calls (an average 26 minutes per day texting versus 6 minutes on voice calls). It’s easy to see why: Texting is fast, private and efficient. For these reasons and many others the use of texting is common in healthcare as a powerful way for clinical teams to communicate.

However, because healthcare is very different from other industries, this can pose problems. Federal regulations require that personal health data be protected via secure communications. The challenge for healthcare organizations is that although many of the popular messaging apps and services that consumers regularly use do offer encryption, they do not meet the interoperability and flexibility needs—or the strict standards—of the healthcare environment. There are more than 100 companies that offer secure texting options, but any organization considering one of these platforms should make sure that they can offer everything needed to improve care team coordination.

Integrated Tools

Lately I’ve been hearing a shift in the narrative when I talk with hospital IT leaders about mobile devices in their facilities. The conversations are now focusing on a bigger picture: how to use smartphones as an integrated tool within the overall communications infrastructure, not as a separate device that just needs encryption to be compliant. Security is the first step, but there are a number of other issues to consider.

For instance, in order to quickly share actionable information, clinicians need information at their fingertips for the entire staff directory, including who the right on-call physician is. This kind of information is often housed in multiple locations requiring extra time to look up, and may be outdated or incorrect.

Or what about a situation in which someone needs to get a message to a patient’s entire care team for treatment planning or discharge approval? The ability to send a single message to the right group can mean avoiding a lot of wasted time that could impact patient care, staff and patient satisfaction, and the hospital’s bottom line.

Data breaches and ransomware attacks are also on the rise, costing millions in fines and reputational damage, so security is a top concern. But don’t stop there: Secure texting in the healthcare environment should be thought of as one piece of a much larger communications puzzle.

In the past, departments have solved their own challenges along the way with point solutions that were not designed to work as part of an enterprise-wide infrastructure, leaving many hospitals struggling to cobble together clinical communications from different systems. Organizations may have good individual puzzle pieces to fit a particular need, yet those pieces don’t always fit together across an organization.

It’s important to consider patient monitoring, critical test results, nurse call, code calls, and more when designing a communications plan. These systems need to talk to each other and enable staff to easily access them. If not, you’re potentially wasting your time and money, and missing an opportunity to improve patient care and satisfaction.

Enterprise-Wide System Needs

Purchasing an enterprise-wide system can seem daunting. There are so many things to consider from security to interoperability to budget. But in the end an enterprise system can save your hospital time and money by creating economies of scale and addressing multiple challenges with fewer solutions. The efficiency improves when the need for every department to have their own system is eliminated.

Present day communication challenges of hospitals have evolved well beyond just the benefits that secure text messaging on its own can provide. There is a need for communication solutions that are designed specifically for healthcare’s complex environment and that can integrate information from a wide variety of sources and quickly deliver that information to the people who need it. Effective communication among technology systems, doctors, nurses, other staff, and patients is a critical part of care delivery. Think beyond just texting as you plan for the future.

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