Risks of Texting Patient Information Within the Health Care Team

Texting patient information is increasingly common to communicate patient referrals or critical patient information to other health care team members. In some cases, texts include patients’ names, personal health numbers and diagnoses, along with test results and even photos. Texting patient information amongst health care providers requires special consideration to ensure that physical therapists meet College Standards on Privacy/Confidentiality and Documentation and Record-Keeping.

Privacy laws in BC, for both the public and private sector, require that physical therapists make reasonable security arrangements to protect against the risks of unauthorized access, collection, use, or disclosure of personal information. If the device were lost or stolen, what measures were taken to ensure reasonable security of patients’ personal information?

Consider how the privacy risks might change if texting happens on a personal device versus a dedicated workplace device; or if the device is password protected, or even better – encrypted? Best practice is to have separate devices for work versus personal life. Does the physical therapist or the clinic have a deletion policy for texts containing patient information? As the sensitivity and quantity of personal information increases, so should the security measures to prevent unauthorized access, use or disclosure. Physical therapists are advised to develop clear policy and procedures for appropriate use of texting. Policies and procedures that address privacy/confidentiality issues in particular. The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner is a good source of information which can be found at https://www.oipc.bc.ca.

Texts may include important clinical details that need to be captured in the patient’s clinical record. Is there a mechanism to save the text as part of the clinical record, or to transcribe relevant details to the chart? Transcription presents an opportunity for documentation errors and extra care should be taken when transcribing critical details to ensure accuracy (i.e., weight bearing status, orders for head of bed elevation), or alternatively, consider taking a screen shot and uploading the information to the clinical record.

The upsides of texting patient information amongst the health care team include facilitating communication and improving timeliness of patient care, provided that consideration is given to appropriately protecting patient privacy and ensuring the completeness of the clinical record.

This is an evolving area in health care practice and if you have any examples of how you are texting in your practice, let us know about your experiences so we can share with other registrants.