Healthcare Information Security

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Expanding clinical communications: Security decisions

By Patrick Ouellette

- As healthcare organizations continue to move on from pager-based clinical messaging and begin to take advantage of smart phone technology, ensuring staff members are communicating securely remains a high-level priority.

Saint Agnes Hospital, a 264-bed, full-service teaching facility Baltimore, Maryland, has traditionally relied on pagers and operator consoles for clinical communication, but recently chose to expand to Spok’s clinical alerting and secure texting offerings. Paul Donnelly, St. Agnes Director of Safety, Security and Emergency Management, explained to HealthITSecurity.com that while St. Agnes previously focused on two-way pagers to secure communication, the ability to facilitate secure texting is an asset to the organization.

Using the application, data is encrypted at rest, with the potential to use a mobile device management (MDM) solution to set a passcode and the application itself may wipe the data inside the app remotely. As for data in transit, it is 256-bit, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) encrypted. And because messages are stored on-site at St. Agnes, the IT department is able to control its own data, which is important to the hospital.

In addition to requiring a user authenticates themselves with name and password, the user needs to be sent a unique invite to gain entry into the St. Agnes directory to communicate with other clinical users.

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  • Donnelly said that he’s comfortable with the level of security that the Spok application offers. “With respect to secure communication, St. Agnes has a firewall protecting the data as well as device security measures,” he said. “Users can text within the organization’s four walls, but the data remains on the hospital side of the firewall. And we [feel good about] the use SSL technology to secure the data as well.”

    The St. Agnes mobile strategy is currently undergoing a revolution and any staff member who wants use the Spok application to send text messages to fellow clinical staff members on their smart phone can do so. There’s no mandate to use the app, but if they are going to communicate through smart phones, they’ll use the Spok app.

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