4 Factors for Choosing An Encrypted Text Messaging Service For Your Healthcare Organization

Ask any teenager why they prefer text messaging, or SMS, over email and the answer they'll give is likely to reflect the needs of the healthcare industry and hospital/physician communication, too. Here are a few reasons why:
  • Email isn't fast enough. Email travels over the Internet and can be delivered with the speed of lightning or of a snail. Delivery is less predictable than text messages and just doesn't always happen right away. Text messages, by comparison, are typically received within a few seconds of being sent. 

  • Text messages get delivered (and delivery can be verified). SMS isn't subject to spam filters and blockers that occasionally prevent important email messages from getting through. Text messages sent by enterprises to their constituents (such as a hospital or practice office to a physician) do not require the standard opt-in process granting permission by the intended recipient to the sender for them to receive text messages, but more importantly these messages don't get trapped in over-zealous spam filters or simply get ignored. Plus, email can't be tracked whereas the status of a text message (e.g., "sent," "delivered" and in some cases "read") is available through the national SMS network. 

  • Text messages stand out. Dozens, sometimes hundreds, of emails clog people's smartphone inboxes, so it might take a long time to read one that's urgent. Text messages are perceived as more important and statistics show that 90 percent or more are opened within a few minutes.
So if even a teenager could tell us that text messaging is an ideal solution for healthcare, why isn't it used more extensively than it is in the one area that demands rapid response, accuracy and trackable delivery? In short, text messaging — in its basic, off-the-shelf incarnation — is not secure. And given the litigious world we live in, particularly when any aspect of healthcare is involved, privacy, security (and, almost by definition, HIPAA compliance) is a prerequisite. 

There are several companies that offer some form of secure or encrypted text messaging. Almost all take a different approach from one another in their methodology. Presuming that all of these various methods are sufficiently secure (and if they are not you shouldn't consider them as a viable option for your facility in the first place), it's important that IT professionals and office managers consider the following key factors when making a selection:

1. Ease of use. If the system isn't as simple to use as typing a message, selecting the intended recipient and clicking "send" the chances of your office staff using it to its full effect diminishes. If a vendor's approach doesn't include an easy-to-use web-based application you should probably consider other solutions. The web-based application a vendor offers should include things like an address book so that individuals and groups can be easily selected. The system should also offer the option for those receiving the encrypted messages to select their own password with which to open it.

2. Ease of hospital/practice installation. A web-based application is, by definition, cloud-based so no software or hardware installation is required — just open a browser, log into a fully secured web page and send your message. Users won't have to deal with upgrades, software versions, syncing, etc., because they will be able to access the sending process from any Internet-connected computer. In addition, it is likely that you will want to have multiple senders, perhaps in different departments, with the ability to quickly dispatch an encrypted text message. Having a cloud-based application makes it easy to track usage for internal billing purposes if needed and much more just by having different IDs and passwords assigned to those departments. Some solutions require hardware/software combinations that must be installed at your facility to facilitate their operation. This may require an IT expert or consultant, considerations for space, security, power and backup, and maintenance of the box or desktop application. Ideally the solution will be cloud-based and require only a web-based, secure login page to send encrypted messages to recipients.  

3. Ease of recipient implementation. Some solutions require each potential recipient to download an app to their phone, keep it updated and know how to use it. This may be perfectly acceptable to your organization, but you should solicit the likely recipients' opinions in advance. You may want to select a vendor whose solution allows the recipient of the encrypted message to use the apps that are native to their device without having to download any additional apps. It reduces confusion, training requirements, the need to download apps for new or replacement devices and much more. SMS capability is, for example, embedded on every phone device manufactured today. Make it easy for the recipient, and they'll use the system more. Without their cooperation, you'll have little uptake and it might waste your time and investment.  

4. Cost. A costly implementation due to complexities in implementation or the need for special equipment can — and should be — a barrier when selecting a solution.  Furthermore, there should not be any additional charges on a per message basis for those messages to be encrypted. Any vendor proposing a service to you should offer a low monthly fee and a small cost per message. Vendors that charge for additional "keywords" or phone support may be less desirable than those that don't. A good vendor will keep all the complexities "under the hood" and make it simple and inexpensive for you to deploy their solution.

Presuming that you have found a satisfactory vendor for the encrypted messaging services, you will need to establish procedures in the practice or hospital for sending messages. It will become increasingly important, for example, for each department or sender to have unique IDs and passwords so that you can track the usage appropriately. Some upfront coaching or training for those who will be sending messages is understandable; a good vendor will provide you with the instructional materials or even customized screencasts for your organization.

Text messaging is and will remain the fastest and most direct route to deliver information to someone's pocket. Utilizing an encrypted messaging system via SMS ensures that communication between physicians and their practices or affiliated hospitals remains secure and confidential.

Scott Goldman is the CEO of TextPower, Inc. TextPower provides a fully encrypted messaging system for healthcare, financial, HR and other privacy-sensitive industries.  www.TextPower.com To contact, Mr. Goldman, call (888) 818-1808.

More Articles on Secure Texting for Healthcare:

7 Ways to Secure Physician Text Messages
Secure Texting for Healthcare — the Time Has Come

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