A nurse, checking on a patient in the hospital with pneumonia, is concerned about the patient's progress and pulls out her smartphone to text a doctor and a pulmonologist.
No, the nurse isn't breaking HIPAA laws or hospital rules by sharing patient information in an insecure text. She's actually using what could be the next big thing in enterprise social collaboration - secure enterprise texting.
Those enterprise collaboration tools generally include wikis, document sharing, video, blogs and Facebook-like collaborative setups.
Now, companies are beginning to adopt enterprise texting tools that offer workers a quick way to connect with each other, just as they connect with people in their personal lives. That's especially true for younger workers, who text their friends more often than they call them. As they enter the workforce, they expect to be able to text their colleagues just as they do their friends.
Workers who are texting on the job without enterprise tools available to them could leave a company open to security issues, said Brad Brooks, founder and CEO of TigerText Inc. "With SMS, it's a completely unmanaged, insecure and not an enterprise great solution," said Brooks.
TigerText offers an enterprise texting tool that is encrypted and lets users know when their messages have been read. "We think [texting] is conducive to improving enterprise workflow but it needs to be managed and controlled to prevent data leakage out of the enterprise," Brooks said.
With an enterprise texting tool, companies can better enforce corporate messaging policies, make it easier for employees to find and connect with coworkers, and log text histories on the backend while periodically deleting them on workers' devices.
Memorial Hospital of Gulf Port, which is in Gulf Port, Miss., is one of the healthcare organizations now allowing secure, enterprise texting for workers there.
"We had nurses, physicians, nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities all wanting to communicate using texting and we couldn't allow unsecure text messaging," said Gene Thomas, vice president and CIO of the hospital. "As a healthcare entity, we take patient privacy very important and patient privacy is something we have to, by law, protect. We needed to find a way to allow people to text securely."
Thomas, who adopted enterprise texting for the hospital in the spring of 2012, said he opted for TigerText because it met the hospital's criteria for being fast, reliable and secure.
He noted that one benefit of enterprise-level texting is that anyone sending a text message is alerted when it's been delivered, as well as when it's been read.
"If I send you a [regular] text message right now, I don't know if you've received it," he added. "In health care, that's important. If a nurse is texting a doctor, she needs to know that that message was received and that it was read.... If I'm with a patient, I can instantly text message transporters and the appropriate people in radiology instead of going to a computer and messaging these people. It's easier to pick up your phone and not leave the patient's bedside."
Dina Melhuish, a data specialist for the case management department at Memorial Hospital of Gulf Port, noted that some clinicians who resisted the texting technology at first now use it on their smartphones, computers and tablets.
"For wound care, when we're waiting for a piece of equipment or forms to be signed we used to have to go search for a doctor to sign the forms," said Melhuish. "Now, I send the document to be signed through TigerText and they sign it and send it back to me. It might speed up the process by two days... It's fast. It's easy. It's the way of the future."
Lynne Dunbrack, an analyst for IDC, noted that 60% of doctors are using smartphones in their patient care and 40% are using tablets.
"Texting has become so second nature to people that it's the easiest tool for them to use when they're on the job," she added. "This is poised for growth. You'll see more physicians turning to this rather than the insecure methods they're normally using. When you hear stories of clinicians being fired for texting, that 'll put more pressure on organizations to use secure texting."
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.