Texting is one of the fastest, easiest, and most convenient ways to communicate short messages. This communication method has proved to be highly popular as a result, and today more than 6.5 trillion SMS messages are sent each year.
Physicians, nurses and other health professionals use text messages to communicate with friends and family outside of work, and are loathed to lose the convenience of SMS messages at work. However, while the benefits are numerous, SMS messages are far from secure. As a result they cannot be used to communicate sensitive information without a risk that the data will be viewed by unauthorized individuals. This poses a problem for hospitals that want to take advantage of the speed and convenience of SMS communications.
The only way to use SMS in a healthcare setting, and avoid violating the privacy of patients, is to use a secure text message service; one that encrypts data with strong algorithms.
The Torrance Memorial Medical Center is one of the latest healthcare providers to adopt secure messaging, and is now reaping the rewards. It serves as a good secure text messaging case study that highlights the benefits of secure SMS message systems in healthcare.
Mobile Phones are the Natural Replacement for Pagers
Hospital communication systems are often antiquated, slow and are not conducive to optimal workflow, especially in busy hospitals. It was the need to improve internal communications, efficiency and remove bottlenecks that prompted Torrance Memorial Medical Center (TMMC) to make the change to mobile phone communication.
TMC opted for TigerText’s fully encrypted SaaS secure text messaging platform, and rolled this out to all physicians and case managers in Torrance Memorial Hospitalist Associates (TMHA). TMHA is responsible for dealing with around half of all consultations, and over 140 patients are treated every day.
Dr. Alexander Shen, TMHA Medical Director at the time of implementation of the secure text messaging service, said the main reason why a change was needed was due to the problems posed by pagers. He said, “The triage of importance when a physician receives up to six pages at a time becomes not just a day-to-day problem, but also an hour-to-hour one.”
He went on to say, “With a pager system, there’s no way to tell what is a true emergency, and what could wait a couple of hours. We’d decided that if TigerText could work for our hospitalist group, it could work house-wide.”
Shen explained that an assessment of multiple secure text messaging service providers was conducted, and TigerText came out on top due to the ease of use of the interface, but also because the healthcare provider wanted to try out the service in a pilot program to assess its suitability, before rolling out the service house-wide. No other secure text message provider was able to offer this.
The service has proved so popular during the pilot phase – conducted on a hospitalist group – that it was subsequently rolled out to nurses. The plan is now to use the service house-wide.
How TigerText Secure Messaging Works in Practice
Brad Brooks, CEO of TigerText, explained that “Nurses, doctors, [and] caregivers [are] all naturally gravitating towards text messaging via their mobile for daily communication in their workflow. All the content lives on their phones, which creates all types of risks for PHI exposure.” The company tackles this by addressing HIPAA compliance and recipient authentication; two of the main concerns for the healthcare industry.
Secure text messaging is the natural solution for many healthcare providers; however implementing the service requires planning and organization, something that TigerText is happy to assist with. The company helped to integrate the TMHA’s active directory into the secure texting application, ensuring all members of the team were able to communicate with each other, even when a recipient’s mobile phone number was not known. As a result, it is impossible for a text message to be sent to the wrong person.
Since the service is only used internally, the speed of delivery of the messages is not noticeably different from non-HIPAA-compliant instant message services. The service has proved popular with the staff as the interface is familiar and easy to use. As Brooks points out, “The platform is as simple to use as a regular text message, yet the message stays encrypted during transit and at rest.” As with standard text messages, the system can be configured to send delivery and read receipts, allowing the sender to confirm that a message has been sent and viewed.
As an additional protection, text messages can be set to automatically delete after a set time period. The message will remain on the server for auditing purposes, but will be deleted from the sender’s and recipient’s phones.
TigerText Improved Efficiency, Security and Productivity
As a result of implementing the secure text messaging service, TMHA has streamlined communications and will soon be able to stop using pagers, landlines and answering services; instead users will be able to use only one device for all their communication needs in the near future. To facilitate the phasing out of pagers entirely, “TigerText has worked with them toward complete elimination of the pager device by implementing a pager-type application feature that forwards directly to the texting application on the mobile device.”
Voicemail messages are automatically transcribed into text and are sent securely, with an audio file attachment also sent with the message.
The ease of use of the system and wide range of features has made it popular with physicians and nurses.TMHA is also very happy with the results. “Because we’re not playing phone tag, we are more accessible to the patients who are in front of us, yet can be truly responsive to inquiries from other doctors and medical staff while easily prioritizing care needs.” Shen confirmed it has been a win-win situation for all. “We gain workforce efficiency and secure messaging, all without our doctors, nurses and other medical staff learning a completely new system or communication method.”
This is just one secure text messaging case study; numerous other healthcare providers have adopted secure SMS messages and have demonstrated how the service can improve efficiency and productivity, as well as patient outcomes.