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Mobile Devices and Accountability

January 19, 2012
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Risk assessment and the flow of information

Rapidly changing messaging technologies are having an important impact on the way clinicians communicate with each other and with their patients. Those changes, brought about by the availability of personal devices such as smartphones, are making communications more efficient, but are also posing some significant challenges to hospital CIOs as they struggle to adapt to technology advancements, while maintaining control of communications in the enterprise.

I recently had a conversation on the topic of secure messaging with Charles Christian, CIO of Good Samaritan Hospital in Vincennes, Ind.  “To me, the number 1 issue is security,” he says. “Texting on cellphones is not secure.”

He gave an example of some clinicians in his organization who were texting information among themselves to coordinate certain activities around their patients. They were not sending identifiable patient information, and were just using initials. Nevertheless, when he learned of the activity, he insisted they stop. He is trying to accommodate their needs by providing a secured messaging service in the hospital. He is also working on a project he calls Unified Communication, with the goal of expediting the process in which caregivers can contact one another. That remains a work in progress.

According to another CIO at a hospital system on the Pacific Northwest, who asked not to be identified by name, the proliferation of consumer electronic devices for messaging has raised accountability questions over the security of data for both the enterprise and the individual user. In his view, responsibility is a two-way street.  Many clinicians and staff clearly have embraced mobile communication devices, but there should be accountability by both the organization and the user, he says. It remains a controversial topic with few clear-cut answers, he says.

The accountability question will also need to be addressed as patients take a more active role in their healthcare. That’s a laudable goal and an important part of healthcare reform. But it also introduces more risk to health providers, which need to arrive at some agreement on levels of accountability which it comes to protecting the privacy of patient records, he says.

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