Healthcare News & Insights

Texting orders in hospitals: Should it be allowed?

The debate about whether hospital clinicians should be allowed to text in orders rages on. One doctor offers an argument as to why providers need to be able to communicate with each other via text about patients’ treatment. 

Recently, the Joint Commission issued guidance discouraging hospitals from allowing providers to text orders, citing concerns with accuracy, security and effective communication. However, many doctors find texting convenient, especially when they’re offsite.

Why texting works

In an article from Medscape, Dr. Melissa Walton-Shirley, a cardiologist based in Tennessee, gives several reasons why doctors and nurses should be allowed to text each other about patient treatments.

For starters, texting has become a popular form of communication in all avenues of life, not just at hospitals. One recent survey from Informate shows that a growing number of U.S. citizens spend more time using their smartphones to send texts than they do answering calls. Further research shows that more than 80% of healthcare providers use a smartphone for professional purposes.

As further evidence that texting orders should be allowed, Dr. Walton-Shirley cites how much faster it can be for providers to send and receive texts to each other, as opposed to phone calls.

In life-or-death situations, every second counts. So texting can save valuable time when waiting for word on whether to administer certain treatments or medications to patients. Faster treatment can help providers give more immediate attention to patients, which can improve outcomes.

Plus, there are already issues with traditional verbal communication. Verbal conversations may not be entered into the record properly due to human error. And HIPAA violations can happen just as easily through a verbal conversation than they can using texts.

The Joint Commission and other agencies suggest computerized physician order entry (CPOE) via an electronic health record (EHR) system as the best way to protect against errors that can happen when communicating via text.

But CPOE can bring about its own set of problems. According to Dr. Walton-Shirley, the potential for human error still exists, mainly because someone can still enter in orders incorrectly after a verbal conversation. Whether it’s a typing error, or a mistake where the information ends up in the wrong patient’s EHR record, CPOE doesn’t eliminate the chance of errors entirely.

Ultimately, the benefits of texting in orders would outweigh any drawbacks. As Dr. Walton-Shirley puts it, “Patients have always benefited from timely communication, and they always will. We should be encouraged to text orders whenever it makes sense. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s high time that we do more of the right things for patients and physicians.”

Future of texting orders

Time will tell if the Joint Commission will take this view into perspective and reverse its view on texting orders.

The agency does acknowledge the added convenience it brings providers, but says it doesn’t have enough information about whether the risks of texting orders can be fully mitigated by using secure texting solutions, encrypted smartphones or other strategies designed to keep patient data confidential. We’ll keep you posted.

For now, clinical staff will have to stick to simple communications via text messaging, preferably using apps designed to keep any patient information exchanged as secure as possible.

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