Telemedicine solutions are in high demand as patients want more convenient ways to communicate with their healthcare providers. Secure two-way texting is one of the best features that can help patients today, but few telemedicine solutions offer it.
The main issue when a medical practice uses texting is that it’s not secure and can put patients’ information at risk of privacy breaches. Medical professionals must follow HIPAA guidelines, which isn’t possible with most texting options. The use of applications such as WhatsApp or Slack to send sensitive patient information can lead to fines and even criminal charges.
Additionally, many text message platforms don’t integrate with your electronic health records or offer automation. This results in your staff having to manually create individual messages, look up cellphone numbers, resulting in an exponentially increased workload.
What healthcare providers need is a HIPAA-compliant patient messaging platform that is simple to use and integrate.
What are the HIPAA laws and texting regulations?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that exists to protect patient medical records and sensitive healthcare information. It includes numerous rules and regulations that dictate how healthcare providers can handle and disclose patient data.
HIPAA rules and guidelines cover identifiable health information. If the data you want to disclose can be tied to a particular individual, you must adhere to HIPAA regulations and keep it secure. Some common examples of protected information include:
- Lab test results
- Insurance documents
- Healthcare bills
- Patient addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses
- Biometric identifiers
When you use patient information via regular text, that can lead to HIPAA violations. No matter how well the patient protects their phone, there’s always a chance that someone else could gain access to it.
If you want to disclose patient info, you must avoid mentioning PHI or use a HIPAA compliant texting platform.
What are the consequences of violating HIPAA texting guidelines?
U.S. healthcare providers must adhere to HIPAA rules to avoid penalties. Patient data security is considered a top priority, and violations lead to swift repercussions.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) enforces HIPAA privacy and security regulations.
The main functions of the Office for Civil Rights division of the HHS include:
- Investigating HIPAA violation complaints
- Conducting compliance reviews of covered entities
- Educating healthcare providers to foster compliance with HIPAA rules
If a covered entity fails to adhere to the rules and regulations, they may face civil or criminal penalties.
Fines are the most common repercussions for HIPAA violations. The HHS determines the fine amounts depending on the number of affected patients and the level of neglect shown by the healthcare provider.
Fines can range up to $50,000 per violation. The HHS provides a grace period for covered entities to correct HIPAA violations to reduce the fine amount. If the entity shows willful neglect and doesn’t remedy the problem during the grace period, they can be fined upwards of $1.5 million per year.
Egregious examples of HIPAA violations can lead to criminal charges. The HHS transfers jurisdiction to the Department of Justice, which then criminally prosecutes violators. Depending on the circumstances of the violation, it can carry a prison sentence of up to ten years.
When you use third-party software to handle protected patient information, it’s crucial for healthcare providers to enter into a Business Associate Agreement to remain HIPAA compliant.
What benefits do healthcare providers get from HIPAA compliant texting?
There are many reasons why healthcare providers are into HIPAA compliant texting solutions. It’s a lot more convenient to send text messages than make a phone call or send emails.
A telemedicine solution that integrates with your EHR can simplify many day-to-day administrative tasks and provide a more streamlined clinic experience.
Here are a few examples of the many benefits you can expect when you integrate a texting solution to your practice:
- More convenient communication
- Increased patient satisfaction
- Simpler scheduling
- Fewer missed appointments
Cut Down Phone Volumes by Half
There are plenty of studies that attest to the efficiency of texting. Americans check their phones over a hundred times per day. Most smartphone owners read a message within three minutes of receiving it. It’s easy to see why many healthcare providers would want to introduce two-way texting options for patients.
Patients are far more likely to read a text than answer a phone call. It’s a lot easier to send a text than to call the patient to remind them of an appointment. Instead of calling patients and waiting for them to answer, you can leave a text that they can reply to when it suits them.
With the added convenience of texting solutions, patients will communicate with their healthcare providers more frequently. Since they don’t have to wait half an hour while trying to get front desk staff on the phone, they’ll be more likely to get in touch if they have questions or dilemmas.
Improve Preventive Care
Patients often complain that healthcare providers are more reactive than proactive when administering care. One of the reasons for this is a lack of regular communication between patients and their healthcare providers. It’s impossible to call patients every time they are due for a routine exam or preventative screening, and they don’t always read emails.
Texts can facilitate communication and allow healthcare providers to keep patients informed and up to date with their care options. With the right integrated texting solution, healthcare providers may set up automated messages that will notify patients of upcoming routine checkups. Sending useful self-care tips and wellness info can also help patients stay on top of their healthcare.
Simplify Appointment Scheduling
Scheduling an appointment over the phone is a tedious task. Physicians have to check their schedule, inform the patient, wait for them to choose a time slot, and only then set up a date.
By using a texting solution, you can inform patients about free appointment slots and let them choose one that suits them. It’s a lot easier to notify a patient of schedule changes via text, as they’re likely to read the message quickly.
Missed appointments cost the U.S. health system over $150 billion every year. Patients miss around one-in-five scheduled appointments for various reasons. It’s not uncommon for patients to forget about their visit. Phone call reminders do little to reduce this number, as people seldom answer calls from unknown numbers.
Texts have proven to be the more effective option for reminding patients about their appointments. Healthcare providers can use integrated texting platforms like Curogram to set up automated reminders that are sent at specific intervals.
Integrate Curogram to introduce HIPAA compliant texting solutions.
Curogram is a fully HIPAA compliant patient-engagement solution, including a wide variety of texting features. Our software integrates with your EHR and makes storing and accessing text data much simpler.
Two-way texting is one of the many features Curogram offers healthcare providers. Our software can integrate with your EHR in 48h or less and provide features that can improve clinic workflow dramatically. In addition to HIPAA-compliant two-way texting, Curogram offers a comprehensive suite of telemedicine and patient-engagement platform. Take a look at a few examples of functionalities we have to offer:
- Electronic patient intake forms
- Virtual waiting rooms
- Integrated scheduling
Introducing texting solutions is a monumental challenge for modern medical practices. HIPAA compliance is a top priority, as healthcare providers don’t want to pay astronomical fines or face criminal charges.
Moving to a digital format lets you avoid unintelligible handwriting issues. The patients will type out their info on a keyboard, so you don’t have to worry about any errors during transcription.