Out With the Old, In With the New – How Secure Texting Is Blazing the HIPAA Communications Trail


Dec 4, 2014 TigerText

By: Justin Nelson; TigerText Chief Sales Officer

In many ways, modern medicine in the 21st century is starting to resemble military combat in the way it deals with general health issues. Flu season starts campaigns to mobilize the population to get flu shots, and hospitals and other healthcare facilities send their doctors and nurses to disaster area relief centers, and Doctors Without Borders works to get healthcare staff in areas of the world where contagious diseases start to help stop their spread quickly.

The way doctors communicate is a critical focus for healthcare systems, but the most common forms of communication are very limiting, stationary, and result in tedious workflows. The landline telephone is more than a century old, fax machines are 50+ years old, and pagers are 40+ years old, yet it is with these technologies that some doctors and hospitals still communicate.

The reason for this is because of the patient information privacy laws that now exist. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) dictates how a patient’s Protected Health Information (PHI) is handled, and levees large fines for organizations and medical staff who release a patient’s PHI to the public weather it be intentionally or accidentally.

It is because of HIPAA, that many doctors and healthcare professionals do not send patient information via cell phone. If a phone is lost or stolen, PHI could be released and the healthcare organization would have a big problem. The same principal applies to SMS text messages – Many copies of the message are made and left on networks as they travel around the cell networks. These copies of messages could easily be tracked, re-copied and released to the public.

As a result, many doctors and healthcare professionals use landlines and faxes to send and receive prescription orders, patient referrals, and other documents containing PHI, which in today’s mobile society, can really slow down information transfer.

As doctors increasingly become more mobile, with healthcare operations reaching out to patients in their homes and visiting other healthcare facilities to attend patients, there needs to be a way to send PHI with a HIPAA compliant mobile technology.

Secure texting is a HIPAA compliant mobile technology that allows doctors and healthcare staff to send secure and fully compliant messages from one mobile device to another. In most cases, as with TigerText, secure messaging solutions also allows you to also attach files, photos and videos.

How is secure messaging different from standard SMS messaging that comes with every mobile phone?

The difference between SMS and a secure messaging app like TigerText, is that messages are sent through a secure server so no copy of the messages are made or left on severs across the network.

In addition, messages and attachments are encrypted, so if a device is lost or stolen, the messages and attachments cannot be read. Additionally, messages auto-delete after a set period of time and can be remotely wiped, preventing someone from being able to capture or access recent messages.

Secure messaging offers healthcare organizations the ability to send staff offsite, and still be able to send and receive detailed patient information without having to worry about HIPAA fines from non-compliance due to PHI disclosures.

A good example of this is Providence Anesthesiology Associates, an anesthesia and perioperative care group serving patients across North Carolina. Providence has dozens of clinicians working at various locations, including hospitals, medical centers, surgery centers and more. They wanted a HIPAA compliant tool to improve communication and coordination of care with offsite staff.

TigerText’s secure messaging addressed these needs by providing an integrated communication platform that enables staff to quickly connect with their mobile employees in a safe and secure manner.

Providence appreciated TigerText’s robust features including message delivery and read receipts enabling staff to confirm that messages have been seen, while group-messaging capabilities help their care teams communicate around a single patient. Distribution list features allow an admin user to send information to a custom set of users at one time, is also a critical feature for Providence Anesthesiology Associates.

The days of beepers, faxes, and overhead paging are quickly coming to an end. Savvy healthcare organizations are kicking these tools to the curb as they see the immediate benefits of secure texting – it allows for more efficient operations and workflows, while helping staff coordinate care. At the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want?