The dedicated HIPAA-compliant texting services range in price from free for basic features to a monthly fee per user that varies depending on the features you choose to enable. Some offer integration with the hospital’s EHR, which can let a message sender who only knows the patient’s name to see which doctor, nurse, or other caregiver is currently responsible for the patient. Some offer integration with a call schedule and answering service, or even replace an answering service.
No pager replacement will be viable if there are sites in the hospital or elsewhere where it is out of contact; a solution that works on both cellular networks and Wi-Fi is essential. Some vendors offer the ability for messages not delivered to or acknowledged by the recipient to escalate to other forms of delivery after a specified period of time.
I would love to see a feature that I don’t think any vendor offers yet. It would be great if all messages the sender hasn’t marked “stat” or “urgent” first went to a queue in the EHR rather than immediately interrupting the recipient. That way a doctor or other caregiver could see messages while already working in the EHR, rather than glancing at each new message as it arrives, something that all too often needlessly interrupts another important task such as talking with a patient.
And, since most work in EHRs is done in front of a larger device with a full keyboard, it would be easier to type a quick reply message than it would be to rely on a smartphone keyboard for return messaging. Protocols could be established such that messages waiting in the EHR without a reply or dismissal after a specified time would then be sent to the recipient’s personal device.
A Texting Ecosystem
In nearly every case, the hospital will select the text messaging vendor, though hospitalists and nurses, who will typically be among the highest-volume users, should participate in the decision. But the real value of the system hinges on ensuring its wide adoption by most, or nearly all, hospital caregivers and affiliated ambulatory providers.
I would enjoy hearing from those who are already using a HIPAA-secure texting and pager replacement service now, as well as those still researching their options. This has the potential to meaningfully change the way hospitalists and others do their work.
Dr. Nelson has been a practicing hospitalist since 1988. He is co-founder and past president of SHM, and principal in Nelson Flores Hospital Medicine Consultants. He is co-director for SHM’s “Best Practices in Managing a Hospital Medicine Program” course. Write to him at [email protected].