Texting In Healthcare: The Benefits, Best Practices & HIPAA Rules
According to a FICO survey, 80% of people polled want to receive SMS messages from their healthcare providers. A further whopping 76% said they needed reminders of appointments, lest they forget and miss them. Texting in healthcare is more common than ever, allowing people greater freedom than ever to communicate short but vital information to their physicians.
More than simple reminders, texts from providers save time, money, and effort; all things both doctors and patients love. The benefits of SMS messaging with your patients outweigh the potential downsides, though those downsides do exist.
How Can Texting Be Beneficial in Healthcare?
Consider the ability to quickly confirm appointments without having a patient login to a website or call your office. This creates an endless stream of back-and-forth calls because you can’t leave important health-related information on a voicemail. Imagine a world in which succinct communication was just a few taps on a phone away.
Quickly Communicate Timely Information
Being able to quickly get information to your patients is critical in the event of a power outage, bad weather, or another disaster. Having to call each person to cancel appointments is tedious and extremely time consuming, but a mass SMS message is not. Likewise, being able to communicate openings to patients who are waiting to get in sooner is simply easier via text.
Remind Patients, Reduce No-Shows & Increase Top-Line Revenue
Patients have learned to anticipate and expect mobile-first appointment reminders to keep their appointments at the top of their minds and prevent them from double booking themselves.
For providers, the increase in compliance means less lost revenue and fewer empty spots in your daily schedule while the automated component means staff don’t have to do manual outreach and can serve patients in better ways.
When patients can cancel their appointments via text, it allows you to pivot to quickly fill their spots. Texting in healthcare makes it easier to keep the schedule full, patients on track, and allows for better, more efficient workflows.
Better Communication Between Appointments
Good communication is key to keeping patients current in their care plans, including preventive screening and bloodwork, follow-up care, and vaccines. Being able to check in on patients post-procedure or discharge to see how recovery is progressing and whether or not intervention is needed can now be done via text, which eliminates phone tag, hold times, and phone trees. This can save time and money and creates a better standard of care.
Reduced Costs & Increased Efficiency
Your staff has a laundry list of things to do, and when endless patient calls add to that list, this can turn into overtime hours driven by inefficient workflows.
Texting in healthcare alleviates the need for manual phone calls by providing essential information directly to patients via automation. Automation is reliable, it delivers information to patients regardless of who calls in or went on leave. One-to-one patient text conversations complement this automation so communication feels natural and human and extends the reach of clinic staff.
The Risks Involved in Texting in Healthcare
While HIPAA allows for texting in healthcare— and actively encourages it—there are some risks. Unencrypted data can be intercepted and used by someone other than the intended recipient. While this isn’t as common as other forms of data theft, it is possible and needs to be considered. This is why healthcare tech companies, like Relatient, offer a secure messaging channel to mimic the experience of SMS communication while encrypting data and protecting PHI.
Text Messaging and HIPAA: How to NOT Break the Rules
HIPAA does not prohibit texting, but there are best practices to stay compliant and keep patient data safe. The law suggests that patients have a lot to gain from encrypted SMS messaging with their doctors’ offices, protecting data from third-party interception.
While most basic texting on phones is not encrypted, it can be used as long as personal information is minimal. For ePHI or other confidential medical information, using a closed, encrypted texting system is the best HIPAA-compliant practice.
The specifics that HIPAA lays out for compliance are fairly simple and must be adhered to:
- Unless you use a closed-system texting platform, no ePHI can be transmitted in a standard SMS. This is why appointment reminders delivered via SMS cannot include diagnosis, treatment plans, or any identifying patient information.
- For the purposes of communicating PHI via a closed-system platform, controls over the length of time the data applies need to be established. Moreover, all information needs to be encrypted both during transmission and while at rest.
- Information needs to be secure so that it cannot be altered or destroyed by a third-party, and an audit trail should be established for all communication.
Texting in Healthcare: The Best Practices
As with all communication via mobile devices, texting is governed by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Though medical messages can be sent without consent, offering your patients an opt-in is best practice for ensuring they want to receive your messages and you aren’t in violation of TCPA. Make Sure They Can Opt-Out
Clearly give your patients a way to opt-out of your texting practices. The best way to do this is to put an unsubscribe link at the end of each message. For patients, it makes removing themselves extremely clear and simple. You don’t want patients complaining that they tried to stop receiving messages but weren’t able to do so.
Don’t Mix Marketing and Healthcare Information
If you’re sending a message to remind your patient that they have an appointment, don’t add in solicitations. Even if your patients have opted into all messages, mixing the messages between marketing and healthcare purposes is a bad practice.
Texting in healthcare best practices are a mix of consent and due diligence. It’s okay to send appointment reminders and gentle nudges about upcoming suggested exams as long as you don’t mention the specific exam or include any PHI.
The biggest reason to avoid mixing marketing and medical messaging, other than compliance with TCPA laws, is the frequency at which people simply delete marketing messages. If you tag “don’t forget your appointment on Tuesday” onto a message about your new clinic on Washington drive, people may delete the important information out of habit.
Texting in Healthcare Should Not Be Scary
Most people prefer texting to phone calls—it’s the way of the world. Brevity wins the day, and texts get important information and communication where it needs to be without hassle or wasted time. It’s already been proven that patients prefer texts and need reminders of upcoming appointments and routine exams. By texting, you’re improving office efficiency and giving your patients what they want.
Additionally, texting about appointments increases visit compliance. It also opens up opportunities to get patients who are waiting in for a visit when someone cancels. Ultimately, texting is faster and more convenient than phone calls, saving money and time for you and your patients.
Remember HIPAA and TCPA Best Practices:
- Keep ePHI out of unencrypted transmissions
- Give your patients the ability to opt-into medical and marketing messages separately
- Never mix marketing and medical information in a single message
- Allow your patients to opt-out easily by adding “unsubscribe” links to each text
- Reduce human error by ensuring all outgoing data is secure and accurate to the patient to whom it’s sent
By adhering to HIPAA guidelines, texting in healthcare can revolutionize patient care and adherence to treatment. It also gives patients the perception of your increased involvement in their healthcare and gives them more power over their health by sending reminders of important healthcare milestones or yearly checkups.
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