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    Smartphones, text messaging and HIPAA compliance

    According to the Pew Research center, nearly two-thirds of Americans own smartphones. People, including clinicians, are generally comfortable accessing information, sending text messages, recording information and scheduling, among other things, using a phone. However, in the professional healthcare setting, use of a personal smartphone or other mobile device can present challenges in remaining compliant with the regulations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

    In light of the recent announcement from The Joint Commission that using text messaging to submit orders is now acceptable within certain parameters, it is fair to say that technology has evolved to the point where there are fewer barriers for practices to use text messaging and other mobile applications. However, there are a few important steps to take that may increase the likelihood of remaining compliant.

    One of the most important aspects of adding any new technology to a practice is to make sure that the people using it are happy about it. Al Villarin, MD, CMIO at the Burwood Group, an IT consulting firm headquartered in Chicago, says it all begins with a contract between the technological and the clinical. In order for adoption to take place across an organization, the new tool needs to fit into the existing workflow, and the best way to make sure that happens is to involve clinicians from the beginning.

    Tim Needham, executive director for the healthcare solutions delivery practice at Burwood Group agrees. “Any communication system will only succeed as much as you can involve all participants,” he says. When physicians are asked to use additional tools that do not deliver additional value, they are less efficient, adds Needham. “They default back to the app they know,” which could be an unsecured SMS platform.

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