Setting the Foundation for Healthcare Messaging

by Mark Wechsler | Arrow Systems Integration

Healthcare messaging seems to be part of almost every conversation. The topic includes everything from simple SMS text messages through Patient Health Information (PHI) access via smartphones. It seeps into discussions involving BYOD and is often considered as part of in-building enterprise and wide area network solutions. It seems as though vendors are lining up with “just the right product” to meet everyone’s healthcare messaging needs. To say the least I am finding it difficult to sort out the different offerings.

Cutting through the marketing hype is hard. Luckily, I have the luxury of leaning on some industry heavyweights for help, one of whom is our VP of Strategy and Technology. I also have access to a number of experts in the vendor community who are happy to discuss their products in practical hands-on terms. Through these conversations it became clear that my assessment of healthcare messaging solutions should start with the enterprise and an understanding of reliability, security, and performance needs. User requirements can be built on top of this at a later point. Not all messaging solutions are capable of providing the same level of scalability, resilience, and protection. By starting at the foundation, I could be assured of the solution’s overall capability and eliminate the risk of aiding the user community to become enamored with a slick tool set that would not do the job.

I found several key areas to explore when establishing a foundation for healthcare messaging. Consider the following:

  • What level of security is required? For SMS texting, solutions such as Avaya Messaging Service (AMS) provide end-to-end encryption between registered devices. Remember to consider how information is presented on the user’s device and where it resides when you evaluate your HIPAA compliance requirements.
  • Is message delivery speed and performance important? For simple peer-to-peer text messaging, carrier-based services may be adequate. Keep in mind that common carriers do not commit throughput speeds. For high value, time dependent PHI messaging a dedicated solution such as Mutare’s Vital Link Smart Notification (Vital Link) may be required.
  • Does the user community require high reliability? Unbeknownst to many users, message delivery is not guaranteed by common carriers. Periodic maintenance and hand-off between carriers interferes with delivery. This is not an issue for casual texting, but it can be a non-starter when critical patient data or peer-to-peer communications is required. Look deeper into your solution if this is the case and determine the role common carriers will play in message delivery and your solution’s ability to monitor, track, and potentially resend information.
  • Will messaging include PHI or is it simple peer-to-peer text? PHI integration requires a level of integration beyond simple user interfaces and includes programmatic services (e.g., HL7) as well as workflow integration using tool sets such as Extension’s HealthAlert.

Not all healthcare messaging solutions provide the same performance,

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