mHealth, Physicians and HIPPA: The Brave New World of Patient Communications

Healthcare is evolving as technology is evolving, but where does that leave physicians? And what about patient privacy? When done right, new technologies should better the work of physicians, and still leave privacy intact.

According to an overview of mHealth on Wikipedia, mHealth refers to “the practice of medicine and public health supported by mobile devices.” With an increasing number of people gaining access to mobile devices like cell phones in both industrialized and developing nations, there is a great deal of promise for healthcare delivery over such devices.

recent article from mHealth Intelligence found that 90% of physicians surveyed felt that mHealth messages to patients would be an important part of care management in the coming years. The article also offers some advice for physicians looking to engage in mHealth, including to use these types of communications to reiterate in-person education, to remind patients about preventative care, and to encourage patients to make healthy choices.

Additionally, though there are many types of mHealth, SMS (text messages) may prove to be the most powerful when it comes to helping people, particularly those with chronic conditions, stay healthy.

These ideas are promising, but where does that leave physicians concerned about patient privacy, and the strict rules around HIPPA? According to an article in Health IT Security,  HIPPA rules can actually be a positive for these new technologies. Certainly, there are serious privacy concerns to take into account when using technology like mHealth. Health systems and health employers should take HIPPA training that includes discussion of new technology very seriously, and seek platforms that are secure. Patients should also understand the potential risks that may be involved.

That said, HIPPA should not be an excuse to avoid new technologies. They should guide choice, but not stop implementation. Additionally, depending on the use of these platforms, there can be flexibility. For messages that are educational or encouraging, or serve as reminders, there is much more freedom.

At the end of the day, physicians and health organizations should be ready to adapt to changing technologies as their patients’ preferences change. Just as innovations related to treatment have dramatically changed our health system, so will communication technology.

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