Paging physicians has long been a preferred method of communication, but those days may soon be a thing of the past. Text messaging is a solution that many doctors are interested in pursuing. According to a study of 106 pediatricians, 57 percent described either sending or receiving texts that were strictly related to their work. In addition, almost half of the participants recounted receiving texts from work when they are not on call.
The lead investigator of the study, Stephanie Kuhlmann, described receiving multiple text messages during a shift, “Personally, I probably get 50 to 100 text messages during a shift,” she added. “But unlike many physicians, I don’t carry a pager, so everything comes to my cell phone.” Of those that received work text messages, 12 percent indicated receiving more than 10 messages a shift and five percent reported receiving over 20 messages a shift.
The majority of physicians are using their personal phones for this form of communication (41%) as compared to 18 percent that have a hospital assigned phone. When questioned about their ideal way to communicate brief messages, 27 percent indicated that text messaging was their preferred method as compared to 23 percent that preferred the pager system and 21 percent that reported face-to-face communication.
Although text messaging as an alternative to paging is growing in popularity, only a small percentage of physicians indicated that their hospitals offered a service that would encrypt text messages (10%). This is a cause for concern because the content of the text messages can often times be considered violations of HIPAA. The study indicates the need for this type of technology to be regulated and policies instated when used in clinical settings. Kuhlmann indicated that, “We are using text messaging more and more to communicate with other physicians, residents and even to transfer a patient to a different unit…We’ve had such a rapid increase in cellphone use, and I’m not sure that hospitals have caught up by putting in place related processes and protocols.”