Secure Texting for Nurses
Why secure communication is important for nurses
Nurses are an integral part of modern medical care. From intake to discharge, nurses serve many roles. They do so much more than act as caregivers. They are the central source of communication between patients, physicians, and other nurses. When nurses communicate effectively, it results in better outcomes for patients and saves the hospital time and manpower. When nurses do not communicate effectively, it has a negative impact on all aspects of patient care and can lead to errors and wasted resources.
Industry studies illustrate the dramatic effect that poor communication has on patient care.
In a recent study by CRICO Strategies (affiliated with Harvard Medical Institutions), researchers found that communication failure contributed to patient harm in 7,149 of the 23,000 malpractice claims studied. Of those that resulted in a lawsuit, 1,700 ended in death.
A report published by watchdog group The Joint Commission found that 80% of serious medical errors happen during patient handoffs. This vulnerable exchange includes patient transfers, shift changes, and any other time that patient information is passed from one person to the next. Because nurses are often present during patient handoffs, they have the potential to be the first line of defense against communication breakdowns during this transition.
What traditional communication methods are available for nurses?
Traditional hospital communication systems include manually written charts, Private Branch Exchange (PBX) telephone systems, Electronic Health Records (EHR), and pagers. While these methods are better than nothing, they are outdated and leave much room for improvement.
Disadvantages of traditional clinical communication systems include:
Nurses report that they spend an immense amount of time entering data into these systems. This is time that would be better spent caring for patients.
Traditional hospital communication systems do not provide real-time communication tools like texting. Too often, patient care is delayed because a nurse is waiting on a return call from a provider or has difficulty locating the physician they need to reach. In a hospital setting, every second is crucial, and any delay is unacceptable.
Complicated EHR systems can be overwhelming to learn and difficult to use. When medical staff are pressed for time and are using a system that is too complex, it increases the chance that errors will occur. Because every care team member relies on these records to provide proper treatment, any error on the record that goes unnoticed could have adverse consequences for the patient.
Each component of traditional hospital communication methods is an independent part of the larger system. That means that information contained in one part of the system must be input manually into the other parts. Too often, the information is never transferred between components, so each individual portion offers only a fragment of the available information. For nurses who rely on a complete up-to-date set of records, searching through multiple systems is inefficient and can be very frustrating.
Nurses share sensitive patient information countless times each day. Traditional clinical communication methods present a security risk because there are no built-in features that protect patient privacy. While nurses are diligent in their intention to keep personal health records confidential, experts agree that accidental mishandling of private patient data does happen. Inadvertent violations of confidentiality may occur when a nurse accidentally dials an incorrect number and leaves a voice or text message for the wrong person or sends electronic records via an unsecured network. With a traditional hospital communication system, there are too many chances for accidental mishandling of sensitive patient information.
What is HIPAA?
Every person who works in the medical field must learn about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). This set of federal regulations governs how protected health information (PHI) is handled and defines the penalties for non-compliance with any of its policies.
Protected health info includes any unique identifier that could be traced to a particular individual. There are 18 pieces of PHI explicitly listed in HIPAA law. Data like names, addresses, phone numbers, patient numbers, and social security numbers are protected by federal HIPAA laws.
Physicians, nurses, technicians, EMTs, and administrators must all comply with HIPAA standards. When a person or organization is found to be in violation of HIPAA laws, they may suffer monetary penalties, ongoing monitoring, and even jail time. Once it is determined that a violation has occurred, the offender is permanently placed on a public list. This can cause irreparable damage to their professional reputation.
The current penalties for HIPAA violations are classified into four tiers:
Tier 1 – Unaware of the violation and demonstrating adequate due diligence ($100-$50,000 per violation, max $25,000 per year)
Tier 2 – Expectation to be aware of the violation with adequate due diligence ($1,000-$50,000 per violation, max $100,000 per year)
Tier 3 – Willful violations that are remedied within 30 days of detection ($10,000-$50,000 per violation, max $250,000 per year)
Tier 4 – Willful violations that are not remedied within 30 days of detection ($50,000 per violation, max $1.5 million per year)
The Office for Civil Rights and the Department of Justice handles HIPAA violation cases that involve criminal charges. Some charges, like fraud and identity theft, carry fines and prison sentences of up to 5 years.
HIPAA standards apply to all methods of communication, including voice and text messages, electronic health records, and written records. It is vital that modern hospital communication systems have fail-safes in place that protect patients and medical professionals from the consequences of privacy breaches and data leaks.
How can nurse communication be improved?
Medical advocate groups like The World Health Organization (WHO) and The Joint Commission recommend strategies and standards for effective communication between medical professionals. Using the best practices prescribed by these organizations can reduce errors, save resources, and improve patient experiences.
The best option for large facilities like hospitals is to use a Clinical Communication & Collaboration platform (CC&C). These comprehensive communication platforms empower nurses and other members of patient care teams to send accurate patient info in real-time.
Clinical Communication & Collaboration platforms are:
Real-time messaging and notification alerts are sent to each person on the care team, so there is never a missed communication.
Cloud-based software is accessible from hospital workstations, smartphones, and mobile devices so each member is kept in the loop no matter where they are. Simple user interfaces allow for a seamless experience, reducing errors and maximizing efficiency.
CC&Cs are designed to integrate fully with existing hospital systems, giving users a single access point for all the key information they need.
HIPAA compliant protocols protect medical staff and hospital administrators from inadvertent violations and the stiff penalties associated with them.
Who should use Clinical Communication & Collaboration platforms?
Every health system, large and small, benefits from a comprehensive and secure communication system. The Halo Platform from Halo Health is an excellent fit for any hospital, clinic, or private medical office that wants to boost efficiency, reduce communication errors, minimize liability, and improve patient experience. The Halo Platform provides secure, reliable, and user-friendly communication, requires minimal installation, is compatible with traditional hospital systems, and comes with 24/7 customer support.
The Halo Platform takes the stress out of exchanging patient information so nurses can get back to doing what they like to do most; delivering quality medical care to their patients.