Issues of patient privacy and confidentiality are of importance for the medical profession since they show healthcare providers’ commitment to patient advocacy and trust to preserve high standards of care that patients expect from their nurses, physicians, and surgeons (ANA, 2015). In this paper, the scenario of mobile device risks will be analyzed to formulate appropriate strategies for their elimination, discuss the use of mobile devices in healthcare settings, and provide examples for ensuring patient privacy and confidentiality with regards to the use of mobile devices.
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In a modern technology-driven society, physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals use laptops, tablets, and smartphones in their work (HealthIT, 2014). Subsequently, the use of such devices leads to the exposure to risks such as loss or theft of mobile devices, downloaded malware and viruses, sharing of devices, and unsecured Wi-Fi networks. No matter what device is being used, healthcare providers are responsible for protecting patients’ health information when accessing, storing, receiving, or transferring it. Common strategies for safeguarding patient information including setting strong passwords, installing and enabling encryption, activating remote wiping or/and disabling, avoiding file sharing applications, introducing a firewall and security software, researching apps before downloading them, maintaining physical control over devices, using security when sending or receiving health data via Wi-Fi, and deleting all stored patient information before discarding the device (HealthIT, 2013).
The use of text messaging to communicate patient information is of particular concern with regards to the issue of privacy and confidentiality in healthcare settings because more than 70% of healthcare providers use text messaging to discuss patients’ conditions and 54% of them do not address confidentiality problems (Dash, Haller, Sommer, & Junod Perron, 2016). While text messaging can improve relationships between healthcare professionals, increase their productivity, and save time, issues of misuse and interference with the private lives of patients present significant concerns. After a text message is sent, it can be read by an individual to whom it was not intended if poor privacy practices were in place. Because of this, appropriate security strategies are introduced at healthcare facilities. They include double-checking the phone number of the receiver before sending text messages, avoiding using patients’ names, initials, zip codes, home addresses, or medical record numbers, and limiting the inclusion of sensitive information (e.g., mental illness, substance abuse, sexual assault, child abuse, etc.) (Lyle, 2017).
Personal practices used for protecting patient information include changing passwords every month, updating security software, and acquiring patients’ consent before sharing information with other healthcare providers. These practices ensure the technology-related security of patient information while addressing patients’ needs and requirements. If patients do not agree with their health information being transferred through mobile devices, only face-to-face communication will be applied.
If to mention alternative strategies for protecting patient information and confidentiality, disclaimers in text messages can serve as a beneficial practice. The following is the example of such warnings:
Disclaimer: sensitive contents, including patient information protected by federal and state-federal laws. If this message was not intended for you, please note that any distribution or duplication of the enclosed patient information is prohibited.
To conclude, the use of mobile devices in healthcare practice has both advantages and disadvantages. While offering convenience for healthcare professionals, the use of mobile devices is more likely to expose personal information that patients want to keep private. Because of this, strategies ranging from passwords to disclaimers are used for preserving confidentiality.
ANA. (2015). Privacy and confidentiality. Web.
Dash, J., Haller, D., Sommer, J., & Junod Perron, N. (2016). Use of email, cell phone, and text message between patients and primary-care physicians: Cross-sectional study in a French-speaking part of Switzerland. BMC Health Services Research, 16, 549.
HealthIT. (2013). How can you protect and secure health information when using a mobile device? Web.
HealthIT. (2014). Your mobile device and health information privacy and security. Web.
Lyle, A. (2017). The facts about HIPAA and email/SMS communication with patients. Web.