How Secure Texting Improves Nurse-Physician Communication

How Secure Texting Improves Nurse-Physician Communication

The relationship between caregivers and patients is one of the most important relationships in a hospital, second only to that of the personal extended family unit. This direct connection can often be tied directly to the quality of care a patient receives.

Strengthening the communication between patient and caregiver is vital to enhancing this connection at the point of care. During moments of emergency or urgent needs, physicians and nurses and their teams must be able to communicate a patient’s condition quickly, securely and with the appropriate care team, something that has never been easier nor more important than it is today. It’s safe to say that in healthcare, unlike other industries, the difference between timely, accurate and immediate communication may mean the difference between life and death, at least in some cases. Lack of communication or poor communication between nurses and doctors regarding the effect on patient care can, at times, result in medical errors that prove fatal for the patient.

There are always strategies that healthcare organizations can implement for improving nurse-physician communication that do not negatively impact nurse’s or physician’s care. Before we get to those, let’s discuss one of the most important factors for improving patient care and nurse-physician communication: secure text messaging.

Why Nurse Satisfaction May Require Text Use During Care Protocols

As far as improved patient care is concerned, the speed at the point of encounter is essential for better outcomes and reduced mortality; in the hospital setting, one of the best ways to accomplish this is through the use of secure text technology. Secure, text-based technology in care, as in life, means the quickest responses to situations. Text technology in healthcare can enhance the convenience and expediency of communication.

Cutting response time in a critical situation is extremely important. Texting facilitates a reduction in care response times for critically ill inpatients.

However, it’s vitally important that healthcare organizations employ proper, and secure, texting solutions. There is a tremendous amount of confusion about this technology in healthcare. For example, the Joint Commission banned text orders in 2011, citing unsecured platforms, the inability to verify the identity of the sender, and other reasons. These “reasons” don’t actually impact the use of secure texting solutions in the care setting. In May 2016, the Joint Commission reversed its opinion then backtracked again in December 2016.

All of these overreactions by the Joint Commission created a tremendous amount of confusion about texting in healthcare and hurt healthcare organization’s ability to communicate internally – at the point of care – because people don’t understand what these “bans” mean. The point is that healthcare organizations must partner with an expert in secure text communication, and understand the positive outcomes secure text communications can have on healthcare.

Text volume has surpassed verbal conversation and more than 80 percent of healthcare providers use a smartphone. Traditional healthcare communication systems like pagers can be “suboptimal for facilitating healthcare team communication,” the Journal of Hospital Medicine points out. Most antiquated paging systems are single-function and only allow one-way communication, requiring recipients to disrupt their work environment and workflow to respond to pages, usually via the phone. These paged transmissions can also be intercepted, and the information viewed by anyone in possession of the pager.

Secure, encrypted texting solutions, on the other hand, allow for instantaneous, smartphone-based, two-way and group communication. Traditional smartphone-based SMS text messaging has not met HIPAA compliance, as copies of messages can permanently reside on both carrier servers and devices that are outside the control of a hospital’s IT teams. More advanced clinical communication systems can integrate with third-party systems to intelligently route real-time alerts and notifications to the appropriate shift owner.

According to the Journal, text messaging applications that address security and reliability issues have the potential to greatly enhance in-hospital communication. “We hypothesized that a smartphone-based HIPAA-compliant group messaging application could improve in-hospital communication on the inpatient medicine service,” the report’s authors stated.

Improving Nurse-Physician Communication

Even with this support, research, and data, the question remains: How can a care nurse increase the quality, timeliness, and efficiency of the communication between themselves and doctors?

Given some of the “limitations” of HIPAA, caregivers must remain extremely careful about how they communicate patient information with themselves and others on the care team. HIPAA secure and compliant messaging systems do exist and can allow for a dramatic revolution of how healthcare teams communicate, address patients at the point of care and even be beneficial during difficult or traumatic situations. Nurses responded in such instances to a presiding physician, meaning text technology can meet immediate care demand, unlike any other current medical communication technology.

The ability for such immediate, unencumbered communications protocols is especially beneficial to enhancing nurse-physician communication. While the case for secure text messaging is strong based on the data above, there are several specific factors the use of text technology that can bring nurses and doctors closer together.

Direct Nurse-Physician Communication

Direct “asynchronous” communication is the exchange of messages by reading and responding as schedules permit rather than according to some clock that is synchronized for both the sender and receiver or in real-time; in which data can be transmitted intermittently rather than in a steady stream. In a nutshell, this describes text messaging capabilities. Until recently, when a nurse or another caregiver needed to communicate with another care team member this led to a call or a face-to-face meeting. The call might have interrupted the receiving caregiver from a patient, personal appointment or even time outside the office.

Direct asynchronous communication is communication between individuals who are not present at the same time. Think text messaging. Text messages open communication. Thus, while text messages can be accessed immediately, at the same time the messages do not require an instant response. Thus, a nurse can send a secure message to a physician to inquire about a patient’s history, for example, and the doctor knows he or she has received the message and can respond when able without interrupting his or her current experience. This simple action can improve patient outcomes. Nurse-physician relationships require this level of connection and patients benefit most from these shared exchanges.

The Security of HIPAA Compliance

Security can be a great thing, especially in the care setting. Security is no more precious than to nurses and physicians who have the lives and trust of their patients placed upon them. Patients don’t have to deal with security and HIPAA regulations, but caregivers do. Through secure text messaging, caregivers mustn’t worry; they don’t need to waste time worrying if the patient information they sent will be leaked or intercepted. They can focus on patient safety, and security in the communication channel means they can communicate more often and with more ease. More effective and timely communication produces better results, increased productivity, and better quality of care. Better communication also brings people closer together and builds stronger care team relationships.

Text Allows Images and File Attachment

An extremely helpful benefit of secure texting technology in the hospital environment is the exchange of visual media including MRIs, ECGs, X-rays, CT scans, wound pictures, and lab results related to a patient’s condition. Secure text solutions allow the instant exchange of such information, meaning nurses and other caregivers can send these files quickly to doctors as a message attachment. This allows physicians to quickly analyze patient information and respond with care instructions immediately or as they are able.

By using secure messaging, nurse-physician communication can be optimized and their relationships improved. As a result, there is a reduction in unclear or delayed communication that can lead to patient harm. Secure messaging can bring nurses and doctors closer together by creating a safe, fast and detail-orientated communication resulting in a better bond and improved quality of care provided to the patient.

Will O’Connor, M.D. is the Chief Medical Information Officer at TigerConnect. As a physician executive with more than 20 years of healthcare experience, Will is a passionate advocate for rapid advancement across the healthcare industry.

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