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How to Choose Secure Text Messaging Software: Working Around Poor Cell Reception

Physicians have been texting each other about patient care since the invention of the BlackBerry, if not before. Texting is the perfect medium for direct provider-to-provider communication, which is critical in the hospital environment where the sickest patients need round-the-clock care by a diverse team of specialists. Since the HIPAA Omnibus changes came into effect in late 2013, medical practices have scrambled to secure their texting so that they could continue to communicate it real time while complying with the law.

Replacing SMS text messages is not without its challenges. Traditional texting is very reliable. All you need to receive an SMS text message is the barest, most minimal cellular signal - "1x," let's say, or "EDGE."

Pagers, still a staple of the medical industry, are even more reliable. They use a different wavelength that can penetrate buildings and landscapes with ease. In an industry where getting a message means the difference between a patient getting care or not getting care, it's no wonder that the pager is beloved by so many physicians. The message always arrives.

Compared to these increasingly old-school methods, secure text messaging apps offer many benefits, such as a global address book for the practice and protection of any HIPAA-sensitive patient information. But to gain all-important physician adoption, the app needs to overcome the challenges of the hospital environment where it’s hard to find a strong and reliable data signal.

For example, a pediatric hospitalist walks into the Pediatric ICU to see some patients. This room is deep within a hospital sub-basement, and she doesn’t have any data service there - just the barest sliver of phone reception. A basic secure texting app uses its own push notifications to notify users that there’s new information, but she won’t receive that app notification until hours later when she’s done seeing patients. By that time it may be too late for her to act on it, and she may have made some medical decisions without having the most up-to-date information.

A more advanced secure text messaging app also offers fallback options if a device can't be reached in a timely fashion. Knowing that the hospitalist may not have data service if they haven’t read the message after a period of time, the advanced app can try other ways to notify her that she has a message waiting, such as sending a regular SMS text message - or even a voice call - reminder without any sensitive data. These often get through even when app push notifications don't. At this point, the hospitalist can return to a place where she has data coverage, or can find a computer on which to read the message.

The best secure text messaging apps embrace the unpredictability and constraints of the chaotic hospital environment. This is why pMD took into account the frustrating cell reception in health care facilities when we designed our HIPAA secure text messaging and mobile charge capture software. This is such a key usability factor that we engineered an entire system of notifications and reminders to make sure that providers would know they have a message waiting in pMD, even if they are outside of data service. An app is more than an app when it has a system backing it that makes sure the message gets delivered - it becomes a reliable tool to save lives. This provides the peace of mind that makes doctors happy.