Medical Residents Embrace Texting, Putting Patient Info at Risk

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Despite security concerns, the vast majority of medical residents prefer short message service (SMS) text messaging compared with other forms of in-hospital communication, according to a recent survey conducted at the University of Chicago as well as Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill.

In the survey, about 130 internal medicine residents were given several possible communication options: telephone, email, hospital paging, and SMS text messaging. Survey results, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, show that SMS text messaging was the preferred mode of in-hospital communication by 71.7 percent of respondents due to its efficiency and by 79.8 percent because of its ease of use.

Using SMS text messages, 70.9 percent of surveyed respondents reported having received patient identifiers (first and/or last name), 81.7 percent received patient initials, and 50.4 percent received a patient’s medical record number. Yet, when it came to security, 82.5 percent of those residents surveyed said they preferred the hospital paging system, while only 20.6 percent of respondents preferred SMS text messaging for secure communication.

“People were much more willing to use text messaging because of it was efficient, but when asked about security their preference was the hospital paging system, which is kind of interesting because the paging system is not HIPAA-compliant,” says Micah Prochaska, M.D., a hospitalist scholar and post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Chicago.

Also See: Secure Texts Improve Clinician Response Time

Prochaska opines that because paging systems have been historically used by hospitals and are institutionally-supported, residents have the perception that pagers are more secure for communicating about patients. At the same time, while SMS text messaging is an efficient form of communication and pervasive in healthcare, researchers who conducted the survey warn that it may not securely protect patient information.

“For providers, it is possible that the benefits of improved in-hospital communication with SMS text messaging and the presumed improvement in the coordination and delivery of patient care outweigh security concerns they may have,” researchers conclude. “The tension between the security and convenience of SMS text messaging may represent an educational opportunity to ensure the compliance of mobile technology in the healthcare setting.”

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