Safety group urges doctors to stop texting medical orders

Doctor mobile imaging
The Institute for Safe Medication Practices urges doctors to stop texting medication-specific orders.

While it may be convenient for doctors and other clinicians, texting medical orders creates serious patient safety issues and must be stopped, according to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices.

In a safety alert, the nonprofit organization said the healthcare industry must ban the texting of medication-specific orders until it identifies and resolves those safety concerns. The Joint Commission this year also reaffirmed its ban on texting orders.

A survey of 778 healthcare professionals identified a number of problems with texting medical orders, including abbreviated language, improper autocorrection and orders without full patient names and a second unique identifier to offset data security concerns, the ISMP said.

The organization disagreed with some of the survey respondents who said that texting medical orders is not as safe as electronic prescribing, but may be safer than verbal or telephone orders.

In its alert, the non-profit group said that verbal or telephone orders can be read back to ensure accuracy and understanding, which doesn’t happen with text messages. Most practitioners are also texting orders on standard cell phones or devices without encryption or other important safety features, it said. In fact, a study earlier this year found that while more clinicians gravitate toward text messaging to communicate patient information, hospitals aren’t keeping pace with appropriate security protocols.

“The informal nature of texting orders, often without a known policy or procedure associated with the process, has resulted in uniquely alarming risks,” the ISMP said, calling for the practice to stop.

“The texting of medication-specific orders should not be allowed until the safety issues have been identified and resolved through advanced technology along with the development of vetted, industry-wide clinical guidelines that can be employed in organizations to ensure standardized, safe, and secure texting processes,” the ISMP concluded.