Joint Commission Approves Secure Texting for Orders



May 17, 2016

Alex Grilli and Rahul Shah


Text messaging is a ubiquitous communication tool in our society. Easy, instant, and portable, texting is pervasive in our personal lives as well as in business. Homebuyers now await texts from their realtors to find out if offers were accepted. Travelers are alerted via text message about flight delays and the location of their rental cars. Text messaging is now the most frequent use of mobile phones, supplanting taking photos and well, making phone calls.


Healthcare is the rare industry in which the use of this technology has imposed limits. In 2011 the Joint Commission prohibited the text messaging of provider orders in the healthcare setting, citing privacy and patient safety concerns: “This [texting] method provides no ability to verify the identity of the person sending the text, and no way to keep the original message to validate what is entered into the medical record.” Thus, Joint Commission accredited institutions relied on antiquated pagers and landlines for the remote transmission of orders. This was not only inefficient, it did not make economic sense.


Enter secure messaging platforms, such as HIPAAbridge. In its May 2016 Perspectives, The Joint Commission rather quietly reversed its 2011 ban, citing technological advancements that now allow secure and authenticated transmission of orders. The Joint Commission’s decision highlights developed technology which now addresses all of the shortcomings of text messaging patient information — security, authenticity, privacy, and record retention.


Why this is a Game-Changer


Secure text messaging of patient care orders by providers from their personal devices could be a game changer in healthcare. Studies show significant increases in hospital efficiencies and decreased patient length of stay, improving overall quality of care.


It needs to be done right, however.


Most importantly, it must be done through a platform with secure sign-on, the ability to encrypt messages, send delivery and read receipts with date/time stamps, have a customizable time frame to retain messages, and have a specified contact list for individuals to receive orders.


The worst thing hospitals and practices can do is to rush a roll-out of this functionality without ensuring they are using the most robust platform and have a systematic deployment. It is not as simple as saying “go” and using your phones to send a nurse an order. You need a comprehensive platform and a team that stands behind the platform to provide assistance as your organization evolves and becomes text savvy.


The fact that The Joint Commission made this decision despite persistent security threats shows confidence in current secure platforms, and a willingness to adopt new technology if implemented correctly. The onus is now on us as healthcare providers and organizations to take the baton from the Joint Commission and change the way we communicate in healthcare. The most important next step before you text any orders is to look at your platform and ensure it is robust, secure, and provides the level of support you expect and need in healthcare.