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Terry McLeod of ehrSIO ProjectsehrSIO Projects
A blog about the technical and software sides of mental health and addictions

Texting for Professionals

Terry McLeod Updated: Feb 1st 2011

I admit it. I text. Almost everybody does these days.

Texting on your Smartphone is not a far cry from a professional in a behavioral health hospital or outpatient addiction treatment center keeping notes or other treatment documentation on the device. In fact, companies like New Mexico Software are developing medical record solutions for these devices at a record pace. I thought I'd investigate products that have been sold to professionals, are effectively being used and proven in the field.

textingI prefer the thumb-driven phone keyboard as opposed to the touch screen, probably because I'm used to it, and don't want to get used to the new device. I've actually improved to the point that I can write a pretty detailed Email with fair speed. This gives me hope that using the small-screen environment to do real work is not just a pipe dream. Somewhere, it's already happening, I'm sure professionals are writing their notes on their devices and somehow getting the note transferred from their phone to the Electronic Health Record (EHR) resident on the server of the agency they work for.

This prompts me to immediate suspicion...consumer confidentiality is a huge issue in our business, and I asked myself if HIPAA rules were being broken with this technology strategy? HIPAA is a rule that protects privacy of health information and is enforced by the US Office for Civil Rights.

I became quite frustrated looking into possible SmartPhone solutions, I found nothing conclusive. I ran across so many open ended arguments about the iPhone and iPad's HIPAA security compliance, I decided to concentrate on the one I use, the BlackBerry. I ran across a fair source for the basics in the HIPAA Compliance Journal.

Since Email is the foundation of electronic data transfer in the mobile environment, it seems a logical place to start exploring to determine whether the Smartphone is a secure enough device on which to keep or share consumer information. First of all, there may be no way to assure outgoing Email from a BlackBerry will remain secure, especially if it is forwarded to other treatment team members or to the consumer. Consumer information that's quoted in Email is probably breaking HIPAA rules. This means the IT staff needs to be very savvy in order to assure the information makes it to the EHR without having to pass through public air space in an unsecured state if this technology is to be used.

The simplest thing to do is assure the entire Blackberry mobile network is set up in a secure fashion, to avoid insecure transmissions of data. This is just a matter of configuring the Blackberry with the Secure IMAP selection.

So, you say, that's Email...what about documents like progress notes written on the Smartphone?

In a general sense, many mental health EHR software manufacturers offer mobile solutions. These are usually a service available on the Internet instead of software that's installed on a mobile device, and come with secure methods of access. Using the software could be as simple for the user as launching an Internet browser on a Smartphone. The problem comes in with real estate. The Smartphone's screen is too small for most professionals to find the environment effective to do any real work in the program.

Unless there is an App, a special, small program that installs on the Smartphone to deliver a screen that's limited enough to perform a practical task like writing a note. I'm not aware of companies who have this capability up and running as part of their product, and would really like review the feature/functionality. Companies like New Mexico Software (above) are working on that.

So, if a mental health or addiction treatment professional wants this capability, it may come down either waiting for technology to catch up, or selling the idea to the folks they work for to develop it, simply because it falls into the bucket of software out there that's "not ready for prime time" Hope somebody proves me wrong.

Oh, and about texting patient information? Make sure you have a secure environment that meets the HIPAA rule if you're doing this.


Terry McLeod

Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are a required part of our society, and improving business workflows with the EHR is imperative for the survival of your local mental health and addictions treatment clinics. Terry McLeod provides the bridge between the mental health and addictions professional and the technical world, as well as the glue to keep it working. Contact McLeod at and get more information from his website and blog,

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HiPAA Compliant Texting - - Feb 7th 2011

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