SMS texting an increasingly preferred method of communication for doctors

In healthcare, instant access to information is crucial. Historically, physicians in hospital settings have relied upon their trusty pagers for medical alerts and immediate updates, but a report suggests that more doctors may instead prefer to receive text alerts via SMS messaging.

Researchers conducted an electronic survey, cultivating responses from more than 100 doctors in pediatric hospitals. They presented their findings at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans last month, reporting that 57 percent of respondents send or received work-related text messages in a typical shift.

These communications were not only sent to work-assigned cell phones, according to the report. Forty-one percent of respondents told researchers that they received or sent these messages on their personal phones. In all, 27 percent of surveyed pediatric physicians said text message was their preferred method of communication, compared to 23 percent who preferred using a hospital-assigned pager.

"We are using text messaging more and more to communicate with other physicians, residents and even to transfer a patient to a different unit,” said Stephanie Kuhlmann, MD, who wrote the report's abstract. "We've had such a rapid increase in cell phone use, and I'm not sure that hospitals have caught up by putting in place related processes and protocols."

Those protocols could concern compliance requirements. Regulators impose strict limits on how physicians communicate sensitive information, and now these agencies must consider how much more convenient and widely accepted text messages may soon become in their industry.

Individual practices may want to consult with regulators when crafting SMS messaging policies. Patient privacy is of paramount issue for physicians, making it critical for these concerns to be addressed when developing a system of rules for the use of SMS alerts in medical setting.