Not only does texting save you time and hassle, but it can also help you grow your practice.
Many doctors are using text messaging to generate more reviews and patient feedback, tighten up the appointment books, and improve payment collection processes.
Maybe you’re sitting on some important information right now – health information or practice information, and you’re wondering if you can send it to your patient(s) with a quick text.
You probably already know that OCR has strict guidance surrounding medical texting, and the violation of those rules can result in hefty fines and license suspension.
What can you legally text your patients?
You need written authorization to send marketing or financial texts, but in some cases, sending your patient their own medical information to a patient is permissible. However, privacy is a major concern when transmitting personal health information.
What if the text falls into the wrong hands? What if you need to share information from a text with your colleagues? What if the conversation toes into marketing or finances? Then you’ll have to answer for it.
The rules and regulations surrounding texting patients can be hairy and confusing. Most doctors use HIPAA texting software to make things simpler. It’s in your best interest to do everything in your power to ensure you are on the right side of the law.
Here’s what you need to do before texting with patients.
First and foremost, set your limits on patient texting.
Many medical practices use text messages to send straightforward information like appointment reminders and confirmations. They avoid texting further health information, because it opens the door for follow-up questions and lengthy conversations.
When patients want more information over texting, encourage them to call the office. It’s best to avoid extensive texting conversations with patients in order to protect your time and prevent HIPAA violations – it’s preferable to set up a face-to-face appointment, or at least a phone call.
That being said, other text messages that are protected by HIPAA include post-op or home healthcare instructions, post-discharge information, lab results, and prescription notifications. Remember, there are still some looming privacy concerns that accompany medical text messages.
You’ll need consent from your patients to text anything else, including:
· Advertisements for new services
· Special limited-time offers
· Invitations to marketing events
· Debt collection messages
· Billing and financial notifications
It’s optimal to cover your bases by asking for consent before texting anything! When asking for consent:
1. Keep in mind that verbal permission is not enough – a signature is required
2. Inform patients about what type of information they will be receiving (marketing, financial, medical-related etc. – you might request permission for each type of text)
3. Remind them that there are privacy issues involved when it comes to texting, including encryption and hacking (although HIPAA compliant texting software resolves these common security issues)
4. Give patients a time frame on texting communications (for example, business hours M-F)
5. Always give patients a way to get out of further text messages
Create a guideline for your message content. The tone should always be polite yet professional. Refrain from:
· Personal or unprofessional language
· Patients’ identifying information (full name, date of birth, SSN etc.)
Always end your text with your full practice name, and let the patient know how they should respond to the message (for example, text CONFIRM to confirm). Proofread texts thoroughly to ensure they are as brief and accurate as possible.[i]
Keep text records, and limit texting access to authorized users with authentication procedures. You must also establish procedures to prevent PHI from being inappropriately changed or destroyed. HIPAA texting apps handle encryption, storage, authentication, and other security concerns for you so you don’t have to muddle through it yourself.[ii]
It is critical that the whole team is on the same page when it comes to texting patients. Provide them with the content guidelines and texting limits. Train them on authentication and authorization, or any HIPAA texting software your practice uses. Let them know when they should prompt patients to call the office or setup an appointment instead of texting.[iii]
If you have questions about HIPAA and TCPA texting regulations, always consult with your attorney before making decisions. Your practice and needs are unique, and this article should not be considered legal advice.