Pagers and HIPPA Laws

Since the enactment of HIPPA medical providers must ensure the privacy of their patient’s health information is protected. Medical providers should have policies and procedures in place to make sure compliance with HIPPA is being carried out by their offices. Communication procedures and cell phones should be addressed in the office policy.

Cell phones can pose a problem for medical providers in that most cell phones are readily available with cameras and the widely popular smart phones are also capable of sending photos, emails and other documents via unencrypted emails and other messaging. So, what is a provider to do about confronting this issue?

One solution for medical providers and facilities is to restrict cell phone usage and use more secure means of communication. Developing policies that disallow cell phones on the premises or in areas where confidential client information is contained is an option. In conjunction with that, and to continue to maintain reliable and efficient communications with providers, the logical answer to the issues facing providers is the use of pagers.

Pagers are still the best method of communicating with medical providers, emergency responders and staff who have access to confidential patient information and records. In addition to ensuring the confidentiality and compliance with HIPPA, pagers are more reliable, do not interfere with medical equipment and are implicitly dependable, especially in emergency situations where electricity may not be available.

Pagers have been used consistently in medical and emergency environments sine the 1950s. The reason pagers have such longevity is the benefits they offer. In today’s environment, pagers make even more sense due to the increased scrutiny and consequences of HIPPA. Pagers are by design more reliable then cell phones due to the way messages are transmitted. In addition, the transmission of messages via pagers are secure, unlike many cell phones.

Paging systems feature high power transmission of up to 3,500 watts effective power while typical cellular systems have power of 100 watts. Additionally, the simulcast network a pager operates from provides simultaneous delivery of a radio signal from several transmitters providing wider coverage area and better in-building penetration than other technologies. This is an important feature especially in hospitals and facilities where cell phone signals are not available.

In comparison, cellular type networks assign a single channel in a single transmitter to a mobile connection with a smaller range and then rely on the network to “hand off” the call to another tower, if there’s a channel available and not overloaded. Paging systems can easily designate priorities and block or limit non-critical users automatically for periods of time where it’s imperative the emergency users have access.

Another benefit of using pagers as opposed to cell phones, is the dependability. With pagers there’s no electricity needed for functionality because there’s no battery charging required as with cell phones. Cell phones will not function without a charged battery and that need is even more dominant with the newer smart phones which have very limited battery life due to the applications typically running on the phones. Pagers, on the other hand, operate on standard batteries which have a life of close to a year for most pagers. That, in and of itself, make pagers inherently more dependable than cell phones.

The mot obvious feature cell phones offer is security of the integrity of information. Many facilities where government securities exist, do not allow cell phones in order to protect classified information. With the consequences to medical providers and healthcare facilities for violating HIPPA, this type of security should be foremost in the plan and policy development for medical facilities as well.

Pagers provide complete communication of important and necessary information to providers, staff and healthcare workers. Pagers are more dependable and reliable, especially in critical and emergency situations. Lastly, protecting the privacy of information in this high-speed technological age is the responsibility of all providers and facilities. Ironically, the way to provide that protection is restoring a tried and true, safe and reliable means of communication, the pager. Not doing this, leaves the facility and the providers open for liability and the patient exposed to personal harm with the compromise of confidential information. Pagers should be a consideration for all medical providers and facilities.

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