5 Risks of Text Messaging In Hospitals

Posted by September 14, 2016 4:28 pm


Text messaging is rampant in hospitals. Instead of relying on pagers, clinical staff are now using their mobile devices to communicate in real-time. As time is of the essence in patient care, this makes sense. Nurses are frustrated with delays from third-party answering services. Doctors are tired of roundabout communication channels to give a simple, one-word approval. Unfortunately, text messaging in hospitals is not without risks.

Here are the 5 biggest risks of text messaging in hospitals:


1. Security 


Security is the primary concern for hospital IT departments, as it is the biggest liability. Standard applications, such as Apple’s iMessage, do not possess the necessary encryptions for sensitive patient health information (ePHI).

Any breach in security could place this information in jeopardy, not only leading to patient complaints, but sizable financial penalties for violating HIPAA.


2. Financial Liability


We mentioned unsecure texting can lead to HIPAA violations, but what exactly is the penalty for HIPAA noncompliance?

The penalties for noncompliance can range from $100 to $50,000 per violation, with a maximum penalty of $1.5 million per year. Violations can also lead to criminal charges.

Example of violations in years past:

  • AvMed: More than 1 million patient records, including Social Security numbers, were compromised following the theft of two unencrypted laptops, $3 million settlement
  • Alaska HHS: a portable storage device containing electronic patient data was stolen from an HHS employee, $1.7 million HIPAA fine
  • Concentra Health Services: an unencrypted laptop containing patient data was stolen, $1.7 million HIPAA fine
  • Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary: an unencrypted laptop containing patient data was stolen, $1.5 million HIPAA fine


3. Integration


Standard text messaging does not allow for seamless integration with other hospital systems and technologies, such as on-call schedules.

This lack of integration means that nurses will have no way of knowing if they are contacting the on-call physician, as opposed to an off-duty physician in the same practice. Off-duty physicians may be plagued with errant calls, resulting in frustration and care delays.


4. Urgency


Standard text messaging inboxes do not separate urgent hospital notifications from those sent by friends and family. A dinner invitation resides in the same inbox that houses critical requests for patient tests and medications.   

With inboxes inundated by multiple communications, urgent messages from the hospital have a higher tendency to be overlooked.

Additionally, standard text messaging applications fail to provide the ability to escalate an urgent message to an alternate physician if the primary recipient is unable to respond. This may allow for critical communications to slip through the cracks, resulting in unfavorable patient outcomes.


5. Traceability


In critical care situations it is essential to be able to provide an accessible trail of information, should you ever need to reconstruct a situation for legal purposes.

Standard text messaging apps to do not provide an auditable log of clinical communications. Without a reliable method of tracing all communication between clinicians, there is a higher likelihood of “he-said”, “she-said” and thus, legal liability.


So, what to do? You’re past the point of relying on outdated technology such as pagers and fax machines, but concerned about the risks of standard text messaging.

There’s a better way: secure on-call communications management platforms designed for healthcare professionals.


Features include:

  • Drag and drop on-call scheduling: ensuring that all communications are delivered to the right physician at the right time
  • Encrypted communications: clinical staff can now communicate immediately and securely, without risk of HIPAA violations
  • Escalation protocol: urgent messages are ensured to be delivered and acted upon, even if the on-call physician is unable to respond
  • Easily retrievable message logs: track when messages were received, read, and answered
If your medical staff are texting, it may be time to consider a specialized on-call platform that allows for immediate and accurate communications, while protecting your hospital from risks.