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Should Patients Care About Their Doctors’ Text Messages?

Posted on November 25, 2013 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Dr. Jose Barreau, CEO of Doc Halo.

For all the money they spend on state-of-the-art EMRs, compliance officers and other measures to ensure they’re protecting their patients’ medical information, many healthcare organizations have a gaping hole in their security.

Physicians and other clinicians are as apt as anyone to send a quick text to a colleague. Maybe an attending physician wants to ask a resident about test results or an office worker needs to pass along a patient’s question.

But standard SMS text messages are not HIPAA compliant. Communicating protected health information in this way could compromise patient privacy and expose your organization to substantial fines.

That’s not to say doctors shouldn’t text. Because of its instantaneous nature, mobile messaging can improve efficiency and quality of care. But healthcare providers should make sure they’re using a secure texting platform.

If you have a non-HIPAA-compliant texting habit, you’re in good company. In research last year, nearly 60 percent of physicians at children’s hospitals said they sent or received text messages for work.

It’s easy to view text messages as “off the record.” Chances are they aren’t going into an EMR, and there’s a sense that no one but the sender and recipient will see them.

But when you fire off a text, you don’t know where it will end up. Some of these text messages contain sensitive details of diagnosis and treatment that have been discussed.  Also it’s hard to say whose servers the messages might be stored on, or for how long.  When patients entrust healthcare providers to care for them, they expect their data to be cared for, too.

The Department of Health and Human Services certainly knows about the problem. Last year the agency told an Arizona physicians practice to address the issue in a risk-management plan. The group “must implement security measures sufficient to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to ePHI to a reasonable and appropriate level for ePHI in text messages that are transmitted to or from or stored on a portable device.”

Healthcare providers can text about their patients without violating HIPAA — but only with secure messaging technology. Here are features to look for in a healthcare texting solution:

  • Encryption at all levels — database, transmission and on the app — with federally validated standards
  • Tracking of whether messages have been delivered, with repeated ping of the user
  • A secure private server that is backed up
  • Remote mobile app wipe option if a phone is lost or stolen
  • Automatic logout with inactivity
  • Ability to work on all spectrums of cell data and Wi-Fi for broad coverage
  • Limited data life — for example, 30 days — for messages

Patients benefit when their healthcare providers have quick and secure ways to stay in touch. A secure text messaging platform can help you to provide better care while avoiding HIPAA violations.

Doc Halo, a leading secure physician communication application, is a proud sponsor of the Healthcare Scene Blog Network.

Change is Good – 3 Changes That Are Transforming How Physicians Work

Posted on October 28, 2013 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Dr. Jose Barreau, CEO of Doc Halo.

They say that change is hard and that is generally true. Over the past few years there has been incredible fast-pace change in healthcare. But there are three things that physicians are using everyday with increasing frequency that are fundamentally changing the profession for the better.

1.    Online Medical Information: Gone are the days of textbooks. In Oncology, textbooks are outdated before they hit the shelf. Yes I still love the feel of a good book in my hand but it’s futile to resist. Now with one password physicians can search any disease and read an expert review within seconds. As senior physicians everywhere can attest to, many medical students are wandering the halls fully armed with the latest information and waiting for the opportunity to shine or strike depending on your view. I personally use several websites everyday in my practice. My personal favorite is, which has excellent content in easy to read format. It also has content for patients. With these resources available on demand a physician becomes very efficient. They can prepare for a challenging patient encounter in a short period of time by reviewing the latest literature on an malady. The efficiency of quickly finding accurate peer reviewed information on any subject has changed the way physicians educate themselves.

2.    Electronic Medical Records: Yes, they take some getting used to but they are good. I clearly remember my fathers paper charts piled high and the Dictaphone chirping one hundred miles an hour when I as a kid. This did not look like fun to me. In today’s medicine EMR isn’t optional, it is a must have. With so many labs, imaging results and physicians involved in one patient’s care, this volume of information can no longer be managed with paper. We use Epic in our organization and once you take the time to become proficient it can be a very effective documentation tool and improve efficiency. I have colleagues that use Allscripts, McKesson, Cerner and several others and all have their strengths and weaknesses, but they provide value. There have been studies that show that efficiency is not improved wit EMR but these studies are not accurate and have many faults in their design. The key is for physicians to take the necessary time to become experts at using their EMR. This can take substantial time but it does pay of in the long run.

3.    Secure Texting Mobile Apps: The pager is not dead but it should be. First it was the physician’s home phone. Then many varieties of pagers emerged from voice to alphanumeric. With the advent of smartphones in every physician’s pocket this is changing rapidly. Why carry a pager when you can have a mobile app on your smartphone that sends and receives HIPAA secure messages. A few of the advanced enterprise solutions like Doc Halo can even integrate with an organizations single sign on system, call center software and send real time alerts. These advanced mobile app based communication systems have features such as “Off Duty” and “Auto Forwarding. They have directories and in network physician lists to help align the health care organizations. In addition in a recent survey 70% of users felt secure texting solutions improve patient care. Physician’s adopting this technology is certainly a trend and if these surveys are correct, a positive one.

These are three key things happening in medicine all around us and as physicians embrace these changes we all benefit.

About Dr. Barreau

As chief executive officer of Doc Halo, Dr. Jose Barreau leads Doc Halo’s development team and operations. He is one of the original founders of secure physician communication text mobile applications. The desire to exchange information quickly and securely with his healthcare colleagues eventually led to the development of the Doc Halo app.

Dr. Barreau is Board-certified in Internal Medicine, Hematology and Medical Oncology. He completed his fellowship in Hematology – Oncology at the University of Cincinnati in Cincinnati, Ohio and sub-specializes in breast cancer treatment.

As the Medical Director of the TriHealth Cancer Institute in Cincinnati, Dr. Barreau works to expand the use of multidisciplinary clinics, which will improve the quality of cancer care through better physician-to-physician communication.

Doc Halo, a leading secure physician communication application, is a proud sponsor of the Healthcare Scene Blog Network.