TJC Reverses Decision On Texting Patient Care Orders

Reversing the position taken in May 2016, The Joint Commission (TJC) recently clarified that licensed independent providers (LIPs) or other practitioners may not use secure text messaging platforms to transmit patient care orders. TJC’s earlier position said that use of secure text messaging platforms was an acceptable method to transmit such orders, provided that the use was in accordance with professional standards of practice, law and regulation along with and policies and procedures.

In reversing its position, TJC identified that concerns persisted regarding transmitting of text orders even when the platform utilized a secure system. Together with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), TJC provided four recommendations regarding use of text messaging for patient care orders:

  1. Health care organizations should have policies prohibiting the use of unsecured text messaging (i.e., SMS messaging from a personal mobile device) to communicate protected health information.
  2. Computerized provider order entry (CPOE) systems remain the preferred method for electronically transmitting patient care orders, as CPOE results in the orders being placed in the patient’s electronic health record.
  3. Verbal orders are acceptable where written orders or CPOE are not available.
  4. Use of secured text messaging to transmit patient care orders is not acceptable.

The rationale for the reinstated prohibition against secure text messaging for patient care orders is one of patient safety. After deliberating, TJC and CMS concluded that as the impact of the modality on patient safety remained unclear and determined that approving its use was premature.

So how does this clarification affect health care organizations?

Health care organizations that allowed the use of secured text message platforms for transmission of patient care orders after the May 2016 approval of such systems need to immediately suspend the process and change their policies and procedures to reflect the fact that secure text message systems may not be used to transmit patient care orders.

In addition, health care organization policies should clearly state that all unsecure platforms are similarly prohibited. All providers and staff should be educated on the change in position, and provided with updates on any changes to policies and procedures made as a result of the clarification.

If you have any questions on patient data security, proper information sharing, and IT security call ITPAC today.