When MDs text, is security at risk?

Solid BYOD policies can keep information flowing without running afoul of HIPAA
By Jeff Rowe
09:37 AM

With smartphones now ubiquitous, it shouldn't be a surprise that doctors text their colleagues at work. It's fast and convenient. But it's not secure.

mobile health conference

[See also: Docs who email are still a rare breed]

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Ed Ricks, vice president of information services at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, in Beaufort, S.C., saw this firsthand.

"A couple years ago, we noticed that many of our doctors and nurses were texting one another," he said. That was a problem: Their informal communications were in clear violation of HIPAA regulations, since those SMS texts were not encrypted.

Ricks knew his hospital needed a bring your own device policy. He and his staff didn't want to impose control over their staff members' personal devices; but they needed to make sure security protocols were in place to avoid HIPAA violations.

As the policy evolved, another mandate did too: Don't make the staff's workflow any more cumbersome than it already was.

On Monday, Dec. 9, Ricks will share his work on the BYOD policy at the mHealth Summit in Virginia. Ricks' presentation "R UR DOCS TXTING?" will be offered as part of the technology sessions, "The Role of Patient Privacy and Security Innovations."

At Beaufort, the process involved an IT security firm that had already worked with the hospital. Ricks' strategy was based on ensuring the necessary security measures were in place while minimizing impact on workflow as much as possible.  

Now, he said, Beaufort caregivers can look upon their enterprise-focused program as just another app. All they need to do is authenticate their use code with a PIN number, and the program is used just like any other text program – except now the information is encrypted and HIPAA compliant.

In his presentation, Ricks said, he'll discuss how it's possible to strike the right balance between security and convenience.  One thing is for sure, doctors are eager for their organizations to get BYOD right, as many are chomping at the bit to put their devices to work.

Ricks set out to have a small trial and hoped to enlist 10 providers. But he soon had 50 more who wanted to participate.

For more information visit the mHealth Summit website.

[See also: Docs who email are still a rare breed]

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