Why it's time to push text ahead despite security worries

As anyone with a cellphone can attest, the ability to connect with someone quickly and easily makes text messaging one of the most used forms of communication today. So it's not surprising that such messaging services are proving useful in healthcare.

These tools not only are enabling caregivers to instantly update team members on a patient's medical treatments, tests and rehab progress, they're also helping chronic care patients avoid costly hospital re-admission scenarios. As one research study reveals, texting also is helping to keep patients engaged with their care long after a hospital stay.

Yet, as Chanin Wendling, director of eHealth at the Pennsylvania-based healthcare provider Geisinger, noted during the HIMSS Connected Health Summit last month, text messaging is still one of the most underutilized tools in healthcare.

"[Texting] is not as cool as the sexy mobile app with the nice screens, but I'm telling you, it's very effective," she said.

What's more, according to a recent study of young medical residents who should be prime mobile technology adopters, there is a feeling, at least to some, that texting is not as secure as using pagers and other, older communications tools. While the majority of those surveyed for the study said they prefer text messaging, about 21 percent said they view it as being as secure as paging devices. According to researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania, that's likely stalling the advancement of text messaging as a tool in the diagnostic and treatment environment.

As the study's authors note, this is a great opportunity to ensure texting is secure while advancing texting as a tool. The opportunity is one tied to education--educating residents on mHealth security issues relating to the various communication channels and it's an opportunity everyone, from text app makers to providers and payers, should play a big role in as they will all benefit from the effort.

As Wendling said, while texting may not be as flashy an option for patient care, sometimes keeping things simple can be just as effective. - Judy (@JudyMottl and @FierceHealthIT)