Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center of Los Angeles is one of our country’s largest academic medical centers, and is continually celebrated for its high-quality patient care. The medical center also has a solid reputation as a leader in innovative research and educational programs that make significant contributions to medicine and science. However, cumbersome, unsecured and even obsolete communications systems were seriously (and negatively) impacting the center’s clinical staff.

Clinicians used to carry pagers and cell phones to send and receive all clinical information, yet were unable to share protected health information (PHI) on an unsecured platform. Cell phones weren’t cheap to maintain, and offered very little benefit other than unsecured texting and voice. Smartphones and tablets were viewed as potential solutions to some of the staff’s communication issues, but clinicians weren’t terribly interested in carrying yet another device.

It became very obvious that Cedars-Sinai had to create a viable solution to their communications problem. Secure, two-way texting capabilities were needed along with voice and alert delivery while simultaneously removing the need to carry more than one device. The best solution? Replacing the old, practically useless phone system, reroute some of the paging functions and turn them into alerts or text messages, and utilizing a patient-based directory to better real-time communication among staff members.

Texting is increasingly the most popular way for hospital staff to communicate with one another. Doctors offices use texting to send patients important information and appointment reminders; Nurses can text information to doctors, including alerting them about ready-to-review lab results; billing departments communicate efficiently with patients about past due bills directly through texting.

Additional texting benefits include faster discharge times. In October 2013 South Carolina’s Beaufort Memorial Hospital VP and CIO Ed Ricks said texting among clinicians could speed up discharge times by an average of 50 minutes per patient, resulting in an expenditure reduction of some $8 billion per year. “We just have to make sure we’re HIPAA-compliant,” he said.

HIPAA compliancy with regards to text messaging includes ensuring all texts are sent over secure lines using secure data centers to hold patient information. Encryption, audit controls and recipient authentication are also required by the HIPAA.

In short, as long as secure methods are used to text, hospitals like Cedars have been able to reap the many benefits of using an evolving mobile technology.