Patients prefer receiving and sending text messages with their healthcare providers because it is more efficient and provides greater accessibility. However, sensitive healthcare information unknowingly shared via text violates HIPAA regulations and may greatly affect your medical practice.
Anyone who has a cellphone can effortlessly send and receive text messages. And modern consumers, including patients, prefer this line of communication because it is quick and easy — a survey found that four out of five patients prefer texting to communicate with healthcare providers.
Texting has become one of the most accessible and commonly used methods of communication for physicians to reach out to their patients. However, even with the universal adoption of text messaging and its straightforward service, many healthcare professionals wonder whether this form of communication is appropriate with their patients, especially given that data privacy is a major issue in digital communications.
As texting has become a widely used communication tool in the healthcare industry, myths persist about whether it is allowed, the type of information you can share, if texting is HIPAA-compliant, or even wanted by patients. The good news is that existing laws and medical studies (or truths) back up the use of text messaging in healthcare practice.
Myth: Texting does not work for patients, especially the elderly
The digital age has brought a culture of consumers opting for more accessible communication. To debunk the myth that texting does not work for patients, especially the elderly, here are some notable statistics regarding texting:
- People read 95% of text messages within three minutes of sending
- A study found that US adults check their phones 47 times a day
- Eighty-two percent of consumers open every text message that they receive
- Research found that it takes 90 seconds for someone to respond to a text message compared to the 90 minutes or more that it takes for someone to respond to an email
- According to the 2020 Text Messaging Marketing Report, 68% of respondents said that checking, sending, and answering text messages is the activity that they’re most engaged with on their phones throughout the day
Based on the data presented above, healthcare consumers — patients, family, or caretakers — are often connected to their phones which is why texting is an effective method for physicians to directly communicate with them.
Myth: You don’t need to ask for consent before texting a patient.
Even though texting is a widely accepted communication channel, when it comes to healthcare, failing to ask for your patients’ consent before texting them places you in strict violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) first issued the rules and regulations of the TCPA limiting unsolicited prerecorded telemarketing calls in 1992. By 2012, the FCC strengthened the TCPA regulations, adding that businesses must collect written consent before sending automated telemarketing or text messages. A business that knowingly violates the TCPA can incur fines of up to $1,500 per text message.
For healthcare-related messages transmitted via texting, your practice must ask your patients first for written consent before sending them text messages.
If you are going to text your patients, remember to adhere to the following conditions regulated by the TCPA:
- You must only send messages to the number provided by the patient
- You must explicitly state the name and contact details of your organization
- Messages must be healthcare-related under HIPAA and must not include promotional or financial solicitations
- You can only send text messages once a day, no more than three times a week
- You immediately honor a patient’s decision not to receive text messages
When giving their consent, healthcare consumers must not provide it verbally; it must be in written form — paper or electronic — authorizing your office to text relevant information about their healthcare. For instance, if a patient writes their mobile number or contact information in any official healthcare forms provided by your organization, they already supplied the consent required under the TCPA.
Myth: You can text anything to your patient.
The existence of TCPA regulations has disproved the notion that healthcare providers can text anything to their patients. Additionally, healthcare providers and practitioners must follow the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) guidelines to avoid privacy violations regarding their patients’ information.
Texting is an easy-to-use service, but it’s not an entirely secure system. Physicians or medical staff can easily send sensitive patient information to the wrong number, committing a data breach. Moreover, text messages on lost, stolen, or unattended cellphones are vulnerable to hacking or unauthorized use of information.
The goal of HIPAA is to protect and provide limitations on the information shared between healthcare providers and patients through communication channels such as email, text messaging, and social media. Under the HIPAA Privacy Rules, a healthcare provider must not mention patients’ protected health information (PHI) in any unsecured texting platform; and traditional texting is neither HIPAA compliant nor safe.
Here are some common examples of PHI:
- Lab test results
- Insurance documents
- Healthcare bills
- Patient addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses
- Biometric identifiers
Suppose you want to disclose a patient’s information via text. In that case, you must avoid mentioning PHI, or better yet, use Curogram’s HIPAA-compliant texting platform; it integrates secure communication systems in compliance with HIPAA for data protection.
Myth: 2-way text messaging platforms are expensive.
Some healthcare providers and practitioners may feel that HIPAA-compliant 2-way text messaging platforms are expensive due to system licensing and the cost of medical staff training. But in reality, the use of Curogram’s 2-way texting system can help increase your practice’s profits by:
- Improving patient satisfaction resulting in higher patient acquisition and retention
- Reducing appointment cancellations or no-shows through simplified appointment scheduling
- Decreasing workloads since the system can simplify tasks such as scheduled appointment reminders and electronic patient intake form collection
Moreover, acquiring a text messaging platform is far more cost-effective than not having one and committing breaches under HIPAA. Texting violations under HIPAA may result in criminal charges and fines from as little as a hundred dollars to over $50,000 per violation — an amount that would greatly affect your organization’s revenue.
HIPAA-compliant texting platform is a necessity to every medical practice.
Texting isn’t HIPAA-compliant by default; most practices are unaware that sharing confidential patient information through text messages is a clear violation of HIPAA regulations that could lead to fines and even criminal charges.
As text messaging continues to become the preferred communication channel of many patients, healthcare providers must recognize the importance of HIPAA-compliant texting platforms to ensure the safety and security of patient information when being shared via text.
Curogram specifically provides useful healthcare features and adds innovative security layers that fully comply with the HIPAA rules for data protection. With Curogram’s 2-way texting system, you don’t have to worry about non-compliance — you can text patients knowing their data is safe and your practice protected.
By knowing the myths and debunking them with truths about texting patients, healthcare providers can boost their services and performance by taking advantage of a sought-after patient communication tool: HIPAA-compliant texting.