6 Ways healthcare can improve secure clinical communications

6 Ways healthcare can improve secure clinical communications

The healthcare industry is currently laden with pagers. The joke is that not even drug dealers use pagers any more. However, almost 80% of doctors do use pagers. The main problems with pagers is that they impede efficient clinical communications and lack security.

How can clinicians and the hospitals they work for embark on improving clinical communications and ensuring the security of those communications? Read on.

Communication problems in the healthcare industry

In the healthcare industry today:

  • Pagers are the most commonly used technology
  • Clinicians use standard text messaging for patient related care
  • Few hospitals have fully implemented secure mobile messaging solutions
  • Data security is a significant concern.

Bringing these points together, it becomes apparent that healthcare institutions need to improve their standing from relying on pagers to one where they rely on a secure clinical communications platform. When using pagers, employees often end up also exchanging text messages with identifiable patient information. Platforms like Facebook or WhatsApp are no better as they are not encrypted and don’t follow the protocols of HIPAA compliance.

Given that pagers and social media applications are easily hacked, institutions need to find a way to improve communications and protect patient information from being breached. In addition to violating patient privacy, breaches significantly impact the financial and reputational standing of a hospital.

Healthcare institutions need to find ways to improve communications of their clinicians and nurses.

6 steps to improve secure clinical communications

  • Kick the BYOD ban

BYOD is the inevitable result of a culture where everyone has a smartphone. Over 80% of physicians use their smartphones for work. Asking them to abandon their smartphones is futile. The real focus should be on device security. The Government’s OCR highlights this when they wrote:

Many threats are posed to electronic PHI (ePHI) stored or accessed on mobile devices. Due to their small size and portability, mobile devices are at a greater risk of being lost or stolen. A lost or stolen mobile … could trigger HIPAA breach notification … for a HIPAA covered entity or its business associate.  

Instead of impeding physician workflow by banning BYOD, hospitals should focus on ensuring the security of ePHI on the smartphones as well as information exchanged between smartphones.

  • Don’t make communications burdensome

Make the adoption of secure clinical communications easy. It’s important that secure solutions are not overly cumbersome for the end users. This is the traditional tradeoff between simplicity and security where maximizing one means disadvantaging the other. However, as clinicians are often pressed for time when managing patient responsibilities, it is important that clinical communications portals are focused on creating a seamless workflow.

  • Ensure communications are at the core of the solution

Many malpractice suits are the result of poor communications between physician and colleague. This means that if the clinician had been able to provide clean and direct communications, through a secure text for example, there is a strong likelihood that misunderstandings would be avoided.

Ensure that the clinical communications solution supports the exchange of texts, images, documents and voice mails. This list will go a long way to improving how clinicians communicate.

  • Differentiate alerts for emergencies

Not every alert or communication requires immediate attention. As such, ensuring that clinicians have a way to separate high from low priority alerts is essential. This means that critical issues such as the results from an important patient MRI or severe drug reaction are immediately alerted up on and dealt with. However, a request for a medication refill can be handled at an opportune time and as such should only produce a low priority alert.

  • Use features to facilitate security

As part of facilitating security, features such as a secure log-in process, specified contact lists, the remote wipe of devices and encrypted messaging can vastly increase the user’s ability to keep ePHI safe and secure. It is important that secure clinical communications platforms implement these components.

  • Make security everyone’s business

In part, adding security features makes it easier for the end user to maintain secure communications. But security is not only the job of the clinician or the nurse or the administrator or the CISO. It is indeed everyone’s job to do their part to improve security. Typically, this involves a vision from the CISO with tactical implementations by managers and staff.

Patient safety

You shouldn’t think that communications is just an end to be realized in and of itself. If doctors communicated better but no one saw any result, why would it matter?

The major reason that healthcare communications needs to be improved is because improved communications mean improved patient outcomes. When 80% of serious medical errors can be attributed to miscommunications among medical staff, it becomes clear why doctors need better ways to make sure their diagnoses and recommendations are communicated.

With secure messaging applications, physicians can easily send their recommendations and care directives to colleagues.


For healthcare institutions, improving clinical communications and ensuring the security of those communications need to come into focus. Finding a solution for these points will serve as the basis for improving many ills that plague healthcare today.

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