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The Evolution of Communication in Healthcare

Posted on May 12, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The following is a guest blog post by Erik Kangas, Founder of LuxSci.

Thanks to technological breakthroughs, communication in healthcare has evolved by leaps and bounds from the old days of paper filing systems, faxes, and phone calls. Although those methods are still widely used, there are faster ways to keep patients in touch with their medical practitioners, doctors, and nurses. Yet with a multitude of benefits come new risks: data breaches, unencrypted messages, and willful neglect that could bring about serious penalties from HIPAA. In order to fully take advantage of all that technology has to offer, the healthcare industry needs to know proper usage policies and to enforce adherence to HIPAA regulations. We might not be in the age of pagers anymore, but that just means that more precautions practitioners need to embrace the newly evolving world of healthcare communication.

Let’s take a look at how these methods of communication have changed over the years and what it all means for the security of ePHI.

Pagers
Anyone involved in the healthcare sector has surely encountered a pager at some point in time. Healthcare is one of the last industries to use this aging technology, but messaging systems that are easier and faster to respond are slowly replacing them. With so many smartphones and devices that can instantly let you know whether there’s an emergency, there’s less reason to carry around a separate bulky pager.

An article at HealthITSecurity has this to say about pagers: “Communicating internally via pagers could still have some benefits, but there are now secure messaging capabilities that can assist with routine health issues, address patient questions or concerns, help monitor patient conditions, while also ensuring that patients can properly manage their own conditions.” In other words, with technology that’s so much quicker and more efficient, it might be worth finally letting go of the beeper in your pocket and switching to something that can do everything a pager can and more.

Pagers may not be as efficient as current tech, but certain organizations still believe they serve a purpose, especially critical messaging.

Email
Email has become increasingly important in healthcare, increasing the scope of everyone’s efforts toward protecting patient privacy. Explained in this whitepaper about HIPAA and email, this security applies not only to personal information, but all Protected Health Information (PHI) –including a patient’s administrative, financial, and clinical information. Any health information related to an identifiable individual that is transmitted or maintained via email, or another medium, falls under HIPAA’s definition of PHI. That’s a huge amount of information that needs safeguarding if you want to continue using email to transmit healthcare data.

Ensuring that data remains encrypted on laptops, desktop computers, and all other devices is key to staying HIPAA compliant. While encryption can be costly to implement, it’s worth it to keep patients’ PHI (and other data) secure – and without it, an organization risks paying monumentally more in fines, in the case of a data security breach.

Given that data breaches frequently and increasingly occur in the healthcare sector, organizations need to ensure the continued safety of their patients’ data for both financial and personal reasons.

It’s also a wise idea to sign up with a security company that can handle the HIPAA compliancy of your inbound and outbound emails, as well as the security of your network as a whole. However, it’s still up to you to train your staff, review your HIPAA security policies, and keep a copy of the HIPAA Business Association Agreement that you signed with the security company.

Text Messages
Texting is pervasive as a method of healthcare communication, including using text messages to confirm appointments or deliver lab results to anxious patients. There are also plenty of texts exchanged between doctors and nurses in hospital environments, with many messages containing some form of patient information. All these transmissions fall under HIPAA regulations, and it’s very easy to unintentionally text patient data that could be intercepted, sent unencrypted, or stored in an external location like the cloud.

Sending health information via text is a clear HIPAA violation – even with seemingly harmless messages, like appointment reminders. The only case in which texting health information may not violate HIPAA is when the text is sent to a patient who has preemptively signed the proper consent form. Without patient consent and proper documentation, an organization can be fined up to $50,000 per text message, if the messages are found to be in violation of HIPAA’s rules. That’s a massive penalty for any organization.

As with email, it’s important to make sure that you encrypt and decrypt text messages properly, whether through common carriers, specialized apps for decryption, or customized programs that allow users to send and receive HIPAA-compliant messages without the worry of breaking regulation. You can send text messages securely, but it requires training and a financial cost to ensure the information stays safe and only the intended recipient reads it.

The Future of Compliant Messaging
“It’s not enough to decide it’s time to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ or secure messaging,” says HealthITSecurity. “Healthcare organizations need to realize that this communication is part of an evolutionary process, and it’s necessary to implement a system that can easily integrate with the facilities’ current capabilities.” Organizations need to recognize they can’t do compliance in various messaging systems piecemeal or from one staff member to another, they need to make it a blanket effort that ensures everyone is onboard. And while it may create a more convenient system, the legal ramifications of any slipups can more than outweigh the cost of encryption programs or specialized apps.

As long as there are security protocols in place, we’ll continue to see a growing role for secure messaging technology in healthcare.

Communication in healthcare was and is always about making services easier and more convenient for both medical staff and patients alike. With the constantly evolving nature of technology, more organizations can expand their services and share information faster than ever before. As long as HIPAA regulations and cybersecurity are in place, the healthcare sector ought to continually evaluate what new high-tech solutions work for them—and what old traditions could still have a place.

Around the Twittersphere – Healthcare Simplicity!

Posted on February 25, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.


Complexity has a home in healthcare. However, simplicity is hard everywhere.


Simplicity in action!


Seriously? We’re still talking about pagers? In healthcare, yes we are! How sad is that? There are simpler, better solutions.

Fear of Saying Yes to Healthcare IT

Posted on February 5, 2016 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I’ve seen a theme this week in healthcare. The theme keeps coming up and so I thought I’d highlight it here for others to comment on. The following Twitter exchange illustrates the discussion:


This reply is about secure text, but “this” in Nick’s tweet could be a wide variety of tech solutions. So, fill in “this” with your favorite health IT solution.

Andrew Richards responded:

And then I replied:


Andrew is right that there are a lot of solutions out there, but the “gatekeepers” as he calls them are saying no. My tweet was limited to 140 characters, so I highlighted the fear element assciated with not saying yes. However, that definitely simplifies the reason they’re not saying yes. Let’s also be clear that they’re not usually saying no either. They’re just not saying yes (this is is sometimes called misery by sales people).

While I think fear is a major element why the health IT gatekeepers are saying no, there are other reasons. For example, many are so overwhelmed with “bigger” projects that they just don’t have the time to say yes to one more project. Even a project that has great potential to provide value to their organization. I’ve heard some people argue that this is just an excuse. In some cases that may be the case, but in others people really are busy with tons of projects.

Another obstacle I see is that many feel like they’ve been burned by past health IT projects. The front runner for burning people out is EHR. No doubt some really awful EHR implementations have left a black eye on any future healthcare IT projects. If you’d been through some of the awful EHR implementations that were done, you might be afraid of implementing more IT as well.

Nick Adkins finished the Twitter exchange with this tweet:


Nick has spent some time at burning man as you can tell from his tweet. However, a passion for improving healthcare and going above and beyond what we’re doing today is a key strategy to saying yes to challenging, but promising projects.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Are there other good reasons people should be afraid of implementing new technology? Do we need to overcome this fear? What’s going to help these health IT “gatekeepers” to start saying yes?

Study on the Economic Impact of Inefficient Communications in Healthcare

Posted on July 9, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Efficient communication and collaboration amongst physicians, nurses and other providers is critical to the coordination and delivery of patient care, especially given the increasingly mobile nature of today’s clinicians and the evolution of the accountable care organization (ACO) model.

For healthcare IT leadership, the ability to satisfy the clinical need for more efficient communications technologies must be balanced with safeguarding protected health information (PHI) to meet compliance and security requirements. As a result, the industry continues to rely primarily on pagers, which creates inefficiencies that can have a considerable economic and productivity impact.

To quantify this impact, the Imprivata Report on the Economic Impact of Inefficient Communications in Healthcare worked with the Ponemon Institute to survey more than 400 healthcare providers in the U.S. about the typical communications process during three clinical workflows: patient admissions, coordinating emergency response teams and patient transfers.

This report is chalk full of good information on the communication challenges in healthcare. Here’s one example chart from the report:
Wasted Time in Hospitals Due to Poor Communication

While it’s good to see that 52% think pagers are not efficient, I’d hope that the number were much higher. I think that most don’t realize how inefficient a pager really is to their organization. It’s interesting that 39% don’t allow text messaging, but it would be interesting to see how many of the 61% that allow text messaging use a secure text message solution.

I think the use of technology to facilitate communication in healthcare is one of the most exciting opportunities out there today. Certainly we have to be careful to follow HIPAA, but we need to not use HIPAA as an excuse for why we don’t use the technology to facilitate better communication.

There’s a lot more in the report that’s worth a read. I’m sure I’ll be covering more details of the report in the future.