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Providers' Use of Secure Text Messaging Leads to Shorter Hospital Stays for Patients

Jackie Syrop
Patients whose hospital care providers used mobile secure text messaging to communicate had shorter hospital stays compared with patients whose health providers used standard paging systems to communicate.
Patients whose hospital care providers used mobile secure text messaging to communicate had shorter hospital stays compared with patients whose health providers used standard paging systems to communicate, according to a study by University of Pennsylvania researchers. The study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, followed approximately 11,500 patients at 2 hospitals—Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center—that were using the same paging system at the beginning of the study.

After secure text messaging was introduced on certain floors of HUP, patients’ average length of stay decreased in the first month from 6.0 to 5.4 days but was unchanged on similar floors at the control site, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, which continued to use a standard paging system. Even when the investigators controlled for patient characteristics, over a 1-year period they found that the patients whose providers used mobile secure text messaging were able to leave the hospital approximately 0.77 days earlier (a 14% reduction in overall hospital stay). There were no differences in readmission rates between 2 two hospitals.

Lead author Mitesh S. Patel, MD, MBA, MS, assistant professor of Medicine and Health Care Management at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and the Wharton School, said the study’s findings suggest that mobile secure text messaging may help to improve communication among providers, leading to more efficient care coordination and allowing patients to leave the hospital sooner.

Many hospitals use one-way paging systems that are often unsecure, have limited mobile access, and require either a phone call or face-to-face communication, and most email and text messaging platforms are also not secure and are prohibited by hospitals. Mobile secure text messaging offers asynchronous communication that allows providers to hold group chats that involve the entire care team, the study’s authors noted.

In the 12-month period studied, more than 446,342 secure messages were sent, of which 377,347 were to individuals and 68,995 were to more than one recipient. The highest volume of secure messages were among nurses (39.7%) and residents (37.5%); social workers and clinical research coordinators were the next-highest users of secure messaging (8%), followed by physicians (7.8%), pharmacists (5.9%), and secretaries (1.1%).

The researchers conclude that mobile technology is transforming the way medical providers access patient information, communicate, and coordinate care, as well as the way patients acquire medical information and manage their health.

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