Covert Texting? Weigh Your Options
For the healthcare professional, covert texting represents a simple choice between doing either what is immediate but risky, or what is deliberate yet secure. Expressing it any other way is overcomplicating the issue.
SMS text messaging is the most widely used data application in the world. Last year alone, more than 7 trillion SMS messages were sent worldwide. It’s just about as pervasive and widely used as oxygen. And for some, e.g., teenagers, it’s nearly as important.
The appeal is pretty clear: it’s portable, convenient, always on, immediate, and reliable. In technical parlance, it’s “asynchronous”, which is that wonderful characteristic that allows us to communicate on our terms. We can respond when we’re ready, or not at all. We’re not trapped. In other words, it’s pretty much the perfect communication tool for an increasingly mobile and schizophrenic society.
Unfortunately, where healthcare is concerned, it’s also unsecure. If you use it in a professional capacity, you cannot text sensitive protected health information (PHI). If you do, you’re violating HIPAA and HITECH privacy and security regulations. It’s that simple.
Yet, anecdotal evidence suggests that SMS texting is common, if not rampant, across healthcare. Does this suggest people are flagrantly violating government regulations?
Lack of Communication in Healthcare Facilities & Hospitals
Before answering that, it is worth providing some context to the question. Healthcare has long been plagued by communication challenges. For example, lack of communication is frequently cited as a major contributing factor or root cause of preventable medical errors. The Institute of Medicine identified the issue in its seminal 1999 report “To Err is Human.” Separately, The Joint Commission has consistently identified poor communication as the root cause in over two thirds of all sentinel events in all annual reports conducted from 2004 through 2011.
Would it, therefore, be surprising for healthcare professionals to seize the greatest advent in communication since perhaps the telephone itself to improve clinical care? It shouldn’t be.
Paving the Way to Better Secure Texting Technology
Not so long ago, millions of people used the file-sharing service Napster to download MP3 files from across the Internet. The technology revolutionized digital media and ultimately paved the way for iTunes. In the process, it also cost the record industry billions of dollars. Few, if any, downloading music via Napster could honestly deny that they were committing copyright infringement. Does this mean we are all inherently law-breakers? I don’t think so.
A far more likely explanation is that people, en masse, recognized technology had outpaced our ability to manage the rules and policies surrounding it. So, instead of simply abstaining from the technology, we tacitly agreed not to ask ourselves too many hard questions, choosing to embrace the technology until an acceptable alternative presented itself. In the case of MP3s, iTunes eventually replaced Napster. Songs soared in price from nothing to 99 cents a song, and just about everyone was happy to pay it. Relieved, in fact.
Secure Messaging Solutions at QlisSoft
We now have a similar opportunity where texting is concerned. A couple of companies, including qliqSOFT and TigerText, offer secure texting solutions specific to the healthcare industry. More accurately described as “secure messaging solutions,” these applications create a similar, if not enhanced, texting experience but using alternative technologies to SMS. These healthcare-focused solutions specifically address the three critical requirements either directed by HIPAA or suggested by The Joint Commission in a statement issued last November concerning texting orders – authentication, encryption, and auditability.
As with iTunes, there are some hurdles involved in adopting the technology. With SMS, nearly everyone already has the capability installed on their phone. It is ubiquitous. As long as you know someone’s mobile number, you can send them an SMS. But purpose-built healthcare solutions require users to download and install apps on their phones. It then requires their contacts to do the same before any secure communication can begin. It’s unavoidable.
QliqSoft’s Primary Objective in Secure Communication
Having said that, it should be understood that qliqSOFT’s primary objective as a company is to create a secure communication channel where more relevant, highly sensitive PHI conversations can happen via text messages and other modalities, such as VoIP and video calls. In the process of creating this channel, we continually strive to minimize the friction associated with adoption.
For example, we’ve streamlined the process of creating organizational accounts, or “qliqs,” to ensure that from the first time a user opens their app, they have access to a critical mass of relevant contacts. In other words, we jump-start a user’s network, and then we make it simple to grow. Ultimately, we recognize that for many people free is pretty tough to beat, which is why we offer our base secure messaging solution, qliqConnect, to healthcare providers and organizations at no cost. However you decide to proceed, understand that you do have options.
With SMS Secure Text Messaging, you can:
1. Abstain altogether;
2. Omit PHI and text cryptically;
3. Text openly and hope it doesn’t become a problem (three “solutions” that are probably not ideal) or;
4. With a little effort, you can install a secure messaging solution and text freely, without worry.