Text system enhances caregiver communication, role accountability

Secure messaging via smartphones between physicians, nurses and medical trainees can boost communication, enhance accountability in the clinical role and speed up daily tasks, according to a new study published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine.

The study involved deploying a communication system between May 2011 and August 2012 to a clinical teaching team on two general internal medicine wards. Researchers measured usage and perspective of the system's impact on communication. The team, which included medical residents, nurses, trainees and physicians, received, on average, 14.8 messages daily, typically sent as urgent and requesting a text reply.

The study revealed that 82.8 percent of trainees and 78.3 percent of nursing staff agreed the system helped speed up daily work tasks. In addition, 67.1 percent of trainees and 73.2 percent of nurses agreed it made them more accountable in respective roles.

Yet the system did not score high when it came to communicating complex issues, according to the study. Just 35.8 percent of physicians and 26.3 percent of nurses agreed or strongly agreed the system was helpful in that scenario.

That's because some discussions can't be described or resolved quickly using text, said lead researcher Robert Wu, at University Health Network, Toronto, Canada, and co-author of the study.

"Often these are due to the complex nature of the patients and often the complex nature of the issues," Wu told FierceMobileHealthcare in an email interview. While text is sufficient for sharing that a patient's family member is looking to speak with a doctor, it's not best for explaining detailed medical issues.

"A complex communication would be a specific issue with a sick patient and how to manage them. Often a phone call would best resolve these issues as it would allow for the nurse to provide more context and for the physician to describe their management plan," Wu said.

Texting is increasingly being tapped as an mHealth tool.

A recent report on texting as a mHealth option reveals 77 percent of studies, 46 of 60 reviewed, noted improved outcomes in patient care when text is used to remind patients about medication intake, appointments and lifestyle reminders. Several other research efforts reveal similar beneficial outcomes, including a study reporting texting can boost knowledge of cervical cancer.

Moving forward Wu and his research team hope to improve on the messaging system and its capabilities.

"We have made it much easier to communicate so now the volume of communication [and interruptions] has increased," Wu said.

For more information:
- read the study's abstract