Texting- A Minefield For The Radiologist
Formerly as students, you could pretty much get away with texting anything you wanted on your smartphone or computer. Unless you bullied your colleagues or significantly abused the technology, the consequences remained minimal. On the other hand, an “insignificant” text from a medical profession, including a medical student, radiology trainee, or radiologist, can lead to dire results. Between the potential for HIPAA violations, unforeseen job losses, and discoverability of texts for evidence in legal cases, poorly thought out texting can severely damage your career. So today, we are going to delve into the dark side of an important technology that we all use, the unencrypted electronic text/message. And, you will see why radiologists need to use this particular communication tool so carefully. We will go through five different situations in more detail.
Patient Information Texting Taboos
Sending patient information over an unencrypted text message can lead to a disaster. HIPAA has its tentacles everywhere. God forbid… If a third party discovers this message containing sensitive private patient information without authorization, the federal government can severely fine and even incarcerate you! And, we are not just talking about a few hundred dollars. Millions can be on the line! (1) Not only that, but the patient can sue you for breaching their confidentiality. It is a lose-lose-lose situation!
Sending The Wrong Information To The Wrong Person
Have you ever texted a friend only to realize two seconds after clicking send that it went to the wrong person or group? I suspect a majority of you at one point or another has encountered this problem. Usually, it is something benign. But occasionally, it can damage your reputation. Imagine sending a text to a friend saying “I find Harry really annoying”. And instead, it travels to the head of the department and Harry is her fiance. These damaging texts happen all the time. But no longer may you lose just a friend. Rather, you may also lose your job or damage your reputation.
Poorly Communicated Intentions
Did you notice that most texts come off abruptly without context or emotion? Information that we intend to communicate by text, we often misinterpret as an offensive slight to colleagues or ourselves. A simple seemingly insignificant text message to a technologist such as why didn’t you complete the study? can be interpreted in many different ways. Think about it. The technologist recipient may think that you blame him for never finishing a study and that he does not do his job appropriately. Or perhaps, he can interpret this message as the radiologist thinks that the technologist has a personal vendetta and that is the reason he thinks the technologist does not want to complete studies. On the other hand, it may just mean exactly what it says: you need to complete the study and nothing more. A simple oral communication would have translated the initial intention more accurately with the appropriate accompanying facial expression and emotion.
Helping Out The Dark Side
Did you know that any text that you send is potentially discoverable evidence for a lawsuit? Say you text your colleague, “I missed the pulmonary nodule on patient MR#123456”. Now that the text is located in cyberspace and your friend’s phone, if the patient decides to sue you, the lawyers can recover that text from the cloud or your friend’s phone. All bets are off as to whether that text will incriminate you in the court of law!
And then, there is the basic unintended slip-up. Perhaps, the word correction software on your iPhone changed a word to something more sinister. Think about it. We see it happening all the time. I’ve seen the word changed from “see to sex” or from “person to pee”. And unknowingly, you send the message out to the program director. (He may not be as forgiving as me!) In the wrong context, especially with the recent spout of sexual harassment charges, that message containing these words can be devastating!
Beware The Simple Text
In the modern era, it is next to impossible to avoid texting our friends, colleagues, and loved ones. And, I am not saying that we should never text each other. However, based on these hazards, we should proceed with caution and read over every text we create many times over. An ounce of caution today can prevent a lifetime of work trying to recover from a poorly thought out text!