As the momentum of interoperability continues to surge, digital health companies make mobility strides by launching HIPAA-compliant texting applications for doctors to have a secure way of communicating with patients and other hospital staff members. Federal health officials are encouraging more nimble and innovative workflow solutions and the Joint Commission has ended the text messaging ban for doctors.
Health systems are now able to consider what is suitable for texting orders and how many staff members should be integrated into a this kind of mobile workflow. For example, if an obstetrician was monitoring a woman in labor, they would be able to see her heart rate and maternal contraction patterns away from the bedside as they were happening.
Texas-based digital health company Airstrip offers a platform that can connect multiple devices for doctors and nurses to obtain patient information from across a variety of care settings in realtime. It also provides retrospective analyses and insights from electronic medical record (EMR) data.
AirStrip President Matt Patterson tells Healthcare Dive serves its clients, which range from large integrated delivery networks to enterprise companies, in different ways. Patterson believes it was only a matter of time before the Commission would change its mind because doctors have been texting orders for years. Health systems may need some time to fully digest the recent announcement, he says, noting,however, that they can now audit trail doctors’ texting activity.
A 2014 study published in Telemedicine and e-Health showed the vast majority of pediatric hospitalists (91%) use smartphones, about 60% sent or received work-related text messages on their personal smartphones, among other findings.
According to Patterson, among the first things that health systems should do when determining how to adopt a platform are conducting a formal risk assessment and figuring out the implementation cost. The Commission’s announcement was vague enough that allows for the kind of flexibility needed to be able to choose particular locations in hospitals or service lines to learn about the pros and cons of the texting approach while having a positive impact with minimal risk.
Yet which orders are appropriate for text messaging? Patterson says a system can start out with a small menu doctors can choose from and establish a limit of texting orders to prevent any abuse.
“This is only going to be a very small percentage of all the orders that are entered but it’ll make a huge improvement over telephone orders and the frustrations that currently happen when doctors are away from the bedside and they really do want to make a change,” Patterson says.
Arnold Rosen, founder of Awrel, a Boston-based startup, says the Commission's’ announcement will make the area of HIPAA-compliant texting services more competitive.
Awrel announced in May its launch of a HIPAA-compliant texting application for “quick, easy and secure dental communication and collaboration,” the press release stated.
“Our initial product is dedicated to messaging,” Rosen says. “That’s sort of a first stop a place for a basic application for us to rollout to demonstrate the validity of it and to demonstrate adoption and as we develop our different applications we’ll be looking to expand in other parts of the healthcare industry.”
A 2015 report from software company PhoneTree found "$1 million could be saved per hospital per year by using text messaging for clinical communications during three critical workflows: patient admissions, coordinating emergency response teams and patient transfers."
“Sometimes, the biggest challenges to telehealth reimbursements actually come from the physician practices themselves because they may be threatened geographically,” Patterson says. “So you have to dissect the politics and the financial incentives the incumbent physician practices who have a lot to lose are oftentimes those who are opposed to telehealth reimbursements.”