Electronic Communication of Protected Health Information: Privacy, Security, and HIPAA Compliance

Brian C. Drolet, Jayson S. Marwaha, Brad Hyatt, Phillip E. Blazar, Scott Lifchez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Purpose: Technology has enhanced modern health care delivery, particularly through accessibility to health information and ease of communication with tools like mobile device messaging (texting). However, text messaging has created new risks for breach of protected health information (PHI). In the current study, we sought to evaluate hand surgeons’ knowledge and compliance with privacy and security standards for electronic communication by text message. Methods: A cross-sectional survey of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand membership was conducted in March and April 2016. Descriptive and inferential statistical analyses were performed of composite results as well as relevant subgroup analyses. Results: A total of 409 responses were obtained (11% response rate). Although 63% of surgeons reported that they believe that text messaging does not meet Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 security standards, only 37% reported they do not use text messages to communicate PHI. Younger surgeons and respondents who believed that their texting was compliant were statistically significantly more like to report messaging of PHI (odds ratio, 1.59 and 1.22, respectively). Discussion: A majority of hand surgeons in this study reported the use of text messaging to communicate PHI. Of note, neither the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 statute nor US Department of Health and Human Services specifically prohibits this form of electronic communication. To be compliant, surgeons, practices, and institutions need to take reasonable security precautions to prevent breach of privacy with electronic communication. Clinical relevance: Communication of clinical information by text message is not prohibited under Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, but surgeons should use appropriate safeguards to prevent breach when using this form of communication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)411-416
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Hand Surgery
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017


  • Electronic communication
  • ethics
  • professionalism
  • protected health information

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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