Texting doctors turn off pagers

Fifty-seven percent of doctors surveyed use text messaging for work.

The incidence of texting while practicing medicine is on the rise. Unlike texting and driving, this appears to be a good thing.

A small survey of hospital pediatricians indicated that physicians increasingly are communicating with one another via texts, which is slowly forcing traditional pagers to the wayside. Researchers at the University of Kansas School of Medicine conducted the survey, which was released Oct. 21 at the American Academy of Pediatrics national conference in New Orleans.

Of 106 pediatricians who responded to the survey, 57 percent said they either send or receive work-related text messages, with 12 percent saying they do so more than 10 times per shift.

In addition, 49 percent said they receive work-related text messages during their off hours. Most of those messages (59 percent) come from other hospital pediatricians; 34 percent are from hospital fellows or residents; and 25 percent are from consulting physicians or subspecialists.

Face-to-face discussions and phone conversations still trump texting as the most frequent methods of communication, according to the study. But if the communication is to be brief, 27 percent said they prefer texts, compared with pagers (23 percent) or face-to-face discussions (21 percent).

Patient privacy was a concern, with 41 percent saying they worried they might violate HIPAA rules by communicating patient information via text, and only 10 percent saying their hospitals could encrypt text messages for security.

About two-thirds of the respondents were female, and 62 percent had been in practice less than 10 years. Nearly all (97 percent) said they use smartphones, and 96 percent said they use text messaging.

The researchers recommended additional study into the accuracy of text-based messaging and into patient privacy issues.