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Why texting is a dilemma in the health industry

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As we enter a communication revolution where text messages replace phone calls — it's been widely reported that more than 20 billion SMS messages are sent each day — it's become common in many industries for people to text their accountant, banker or lawyer. But many have questioned whether texting is effective and ethical in the medical profession.

Dr. Sandra DeJong, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, says texting can be beneficial in the health industry.

“So for example, reminding patients about appointments or medications they need to be taking,” she said.

Even though she says there is a purpose for texting, most doctors and health professionals should be careful about texting patients.

“I would say right now in general, they probably shouldn’t, unless they are very comfortable that they are compliant with the current standards which HIPPA tells us about,” DeJong said. “So things like using encrypted messaging and being able to authenticate the recipient and being able to audit and archive all their messages, most people [health care professionals] are not set up to do that.”

HIPPA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, protects confidentiality of identified patients and also provides national standards for the security of electronic protected health information among other things.

 DeJong says though she feels that once everything in place texting will become a norm in the health industry.  

“I think it’s going to become pretty standard once the technology has caught up so everybody can text securely and feel confident that they can guarantee the privacy and the confidentiality of the information,” she said. 

Additional production by Praveen Sathianathan.

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