Better than a game of "telephone": Joint Commission allows secure text messaging for healthcare providers

May 04, 2016

By: Sean P. Kelly, MD

Last week, the Joint Commission ended its ban on text messaging for healthcare providers, stating that practitioners may text orders as long as a secure text messaging platform is used. The ban prohibiting sending orders for care, treatment, and services via text messaging was initially announced in 2011, stating that the technology available at that time could not “provide the safety and security necessary to adequately support the use of text messaging for orders.” 

Enabling secure text messaging

I’m glad that the Joint Commission has finally caught up with the technology and updated their regulations now that secure text messaging solutions like Imprivata Cortext are available. Communicating orders via text messaging is actually a far better solution than the most common alternative, verbal/telephone communication. To ensure the safety of our patients, we need to do more than just “allow” secure texting, we need to make it the norm. 

An unsafe game of telephone

Consider the risks associated with verbal communication. The Joint Commission has attempted to put some safeguards around verbal orders, allowing them only if the person receiving them “reads them back” and confirms the order. However this is neither a safe nor secure process. In fact it’s nothing more than a literal game of “telephone” where simple misunderstandings can adversely affect lives of patients. Adderall sounds a lot like Inderal on the phone. And micrograms doesn’t sound all that different from milligrams. It's too easy to make potentially harmful or even life-threatening mistakes. Ambient noise, poor phone connections, transcription errors, time pressures, and distractions during the exchange of information in person or over the phone in a busy environment make the process error-prone at best. 

And how does either party on the line confirm the identity of the other party, or the patient who needs the order? There's no protection against someone picking up a phone, impersonating a doctor, and convincing a nurse to order a potentially harmful dose of medicine, or an unnecessary lab or radiology test. For that matter, even if an order is accurately communicated between two verified parties, how can one be sure that the phone lines are secure, or that somebody from inside or outside the hospital isn’t listening in? 

Although we have been doing it for years, it's time to admit the truth. We were only doing it this way because there were no better options. When it comes to verbal communication, there are just too many things that can go awry, so why take the risk when there are now fast and convenient secure text messaging solutions available? 

Imprivata Cortext – The secure text messaging solution for healthcare

Imprivata Cortext is one solution that meets all of the requirements outlined by the Joint Commission for secure text messaging of orders, including a secure sign-on process, encrypted messaging, delivery and read receipts, date and time stamp, customized message retention time frames, and a specified contact list for individuals authorized to receive and record orders.

Now that the Joint Commission’s ban has been lifted, it’s time to move past verbal orders and upgrade to secure communications technology that is both safe and convenient.