With the surge of cellular phone use, it is no surprise that the use of text messaging is being researched in health care. Many studies assess provider-patient communication, however minimal research has been done studying communication among physicians. Since the early 1980’s, physicians have relied on pagers to contact other physicians, residents, nurses, and hospital staff. Thirty years later the use of these devices seems to be diminishing. Nurses and other hospital staff members are able to reach physicians with questions concerning patients through simple text messages; cell phones now have the capability to receive pages. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the use of text messaging and cellular phones by pediatric healthcare workers in a hospital setting.
An electronic, Survey Monkey-administered survey was distributed via the Pediatric Hospitalist listserv. Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval was obtained.
The survey was completed by 106 pediatric hospitalists. The majority were female (68%) and had been in practice less than 10 years (62%). Ninety-percent of responders used a smartphone and 96% used text messaging. More than half (57%) reported they either send or receive work related text messages; some (12%) more than 10 times per shift. Nearly half (49%) also report receiving work-related text messages when not scheduled to be on call. Most often these text messages are to/from other pediatric hospitalists (59%), fellows or resident physicians (34%), or subspecialists and consulting physicians (25%).
Many (41%) respondents worried that HIPAA rules can be violated by sending/receiving text messages concerning patient information, and 27% reported having received protected health information through text messages. However, only 10% reported their institution offered encryption software for text messaging.
The most frequent methods of communication used in the hospital setting remained verbal face to face communication (92%) and verbal telephone conversation (92%). However, 41% reported receiving text messages to a personal phone and 18% to a hospital assigned phone as means of communication. When asked their preferred mode for brief communication, respondents varied between text to mobile phone (27%), hospital assigned pager (23%), or verbal face to face (21%).
With the advancement of technology and the high rate of cellular phone and texting use, the way physicians are communicating seems to be changing from the traditional pager method. Physicians are using text messaging as a means to communicate among themselves and with their staff. Although verbal communication is still the most frequent, pediatric hospitalists appear open to using text messaging for brief communication, and some even prefer it. However, concerns arise regarding transfer of protected health information using unsecure systems. Future research should examine the accuracy and effectiveness of text message communication in the hospital, as well as patient privacy issues.