Texting made secure for docs

By Bernie Monegain
09:45 AM

Physicians at South Carolina hospital embrace closed-loop-communication 

BEAUFORT, SC  -  Physicians at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, a 200-bed community hospital in Beaufort, S.C., are poised to embrace texting in a way they've never been able to do before, and CIO Ed Ricks knows it will immediately make a piece of their work easier and faster.

After a two-month pilot that was expected to draw about 15 physicians and ended up attracting 60, Ricks is ready to expand the app to as many as 200 users. Lexington, Mass.-based security technology company Imprivata developed the texting app with physicians like those at Beaufort Memorial in mind. 

It's a HIPAA-compliant text messaging app, Imprivata Cortext, that makes it possible for them to communicate with their colleagues at work in the same way they are used to doing in other parts of their lives, and  -  and truth be told  -  at times resort to doing at work for the sake of expediency.

After two months of beta testing at more than 80 hospitals, Imprivata is going to market with Imprivata Cortext.

 "It's secure. It's encrypted. It's protected. It's traceable  -  all the things we need to do from an audit perspective," Ricks says. "So, for me, it's a perfect fit."

 "It's not like the physicians have to use any kind of new workflow," he adds. "They know how to text. They have smart phones now, or many of them do. So the application itself just seems like you're texting with your iPhone. It's really no different from the look and feel."

Now that the test run with more than 60 physicians is done, Ricks plans to make the app available to as many as 200 physicians and nurses.

 "They just download an app from the app store on the iPhone like you would any other app, and it's free to them," Ricks says. "That helps them get registered on our site, and they're good to go."

Imprivata CMO Sean Kelly, MD, an emergency room doctor, who runs a concierge practice, says physicians are often portrayed as resisting technology, yet most of them love technology. "They are often the first adopters, and they recognize a time-saver when they see one."

Time saving is texting's main attraction, and there are others.

Texting can be used in life-threatening situations, when you might not want to use a pager to contact a consulting doctor who might or might not answer  -  and there's no way to know whether he's received the page, says Kelly. It can be used to describe a situation more easily than it might be to try to describe it verbally, or to fax it, only to covert it to digital format. The ability to share photos of EKGs or X-rays is also a boon.

Texting eliminates all the contortions  -  the back-and-forth  -  that physicians sometimes have to go through to get critical information stat, says Kelly. And texting adds efficiency in more mundane situations, too, he notes. One may just want to text that Room 7 is ready for cleaning, or that a patient is on the way to surgery.

"I text on a regular basis, all day long," Kelly says. "I love the bi-directional instant gratification of the closed loop communication."

"With the proliferation of texting in every other work environment and in people's personal lives as an easy, fast, convenient way to communicate, physicians and clinicians  -  who also being mobile professionals trying to coordinate care among many people who are on different floors, or different rooms, or different buildings  -  also started to kind of rely on this when they needed to get someone fast," says Belinda Hayes, vice president and general manager, Mobile Products Group at Imprivata.

Imprivata bills itself as the leader in healthcare IT security, so an offering like Cortext seemed a good fit, Hayes says.

"It's all around increasing access and ease of use  -  enabling healthcare securely," she adds.

The idea for Cortext came about through chats with customers.

"We started talking to customers about what they needed next: 'What are you most concerned about?'" Hayes says. "The concern around unsecured texting kept coming up."

In Beaufort, Ricks says the app came at the right time. "Doctors were already texting, breaking the rules  -  all for good reasons," he says. Now, their texting will be secure, and no rules will be broken.

"These physicians are already texting," Ricks says. "They know how to create efficient workflows because they're all about getting as much done as they can in as little time because they're so darn busy, you know."