Physicians' Use of Text Messages Sparks HIPAA Compliance Concerns

Most physicians use text messaging to exchange patient information with other health care providers, but such communication could be a violation of federal privacy and security rules, experts said during a webinar Monday, BNA reports.

The webinar was hosted by TigerText, a provider of secure text messaging capabilities to health care organizations and other industries.

Brad Brooks, president and co-founder of TigerText, said that more than 70% of physicians use text messaging to communicate with other health care providers about patients.

Brooks said that text messaging allows health care providers to send and receive real-time information without relying on phone or email. He added that text messaging offers a "huge opportunity" to improve the cost and quality of health care.

However, Brooks warned that health care providers' use of text messaging could violate HIPAA privacy and security rules if the messages contain protected health information and do not include adequate safeguards.

Adam Greene -- an attorney with Davis Wright Tremaine and a former employee at HHS' Office for Civil Rights, which enforces HIPAA rules -- said that HIPAA regulations apply to all electronic protected health information and that data included in text messages could be covered under the broad definition of protected health information.

For example, a text message between two physicians could be considered protected health information if it includes admission or discharge data that could lead to the identification of the patient.

Greene urged health care organizations to include health care providers' text messaging capabilities and content in their HIPAA risk analyses to identify any potential vulnerabilities (Casey Plank, BNA, 10/19).

Jennifer Scott
I saw this happen at the hospital I work at. We had doctors texting patient info, which actually turned out to increase the productivity on several levels. The problem is that it opened us up to HIPAA violations. We ended up getting Tigertext, which is what caught my eye in this article. We actually looked at several systems before deciding on Tigertext. The thing you have to be careful of is that even if you have a technology solution, the adoption rate might be low. It wasn't until we did a training course for all the doctors on HIPAA and texting, and how to use Tigertext, that our adoption/use rate go up past 90%. The solution is a HIPAA compliant technology AND a education and training program to support it.

to share your thoughts on this article.