January 12, 2017

QUESTION:        Can text messages be used by our physicians and other health care professionals to communicate about patients and issue orders?

ANSWER:            The Joint Commission recently issued guidance regarding the use of text messaging in patient care.  The guidance was developed in collaboration with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”).  Thus, even if your hospital is not accredited by the Joint Commission, it should pay attention to the guidance because of CMS’s involvement in developing it.

The guidance includes the following:

(1)     All health care organizations should have policies prohibiting the use of unsecured text messaging – that is, short message service (“SMS”) text messaging from a personal mobile device – for communicating protected health information.

(2)     The Joint Commission and CMS agree that computerized provider order entry (“CPOE”) should be the preferred method for submitting orders as it allows providers to directly enter orders into the electronic health record (“EHR”).

(3)     In the event that a CPOE or written order cannot be submitted, a verbal order is acceptable.

(4)     The use of secure text orders is not permitted at this time.

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