As studies prove that text messaging is an effective and efficient tool for communication strategies, many healthcare organizations, hospitals and systems are beginning to follow suit. There are numerous ways it can help grow your practice, uplift attendance rates and improve patient outcomes.
While most businesses are most concerned about FCC regulations, healthcare systems always need to be cognizant of HIPAA regulations.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) states that a patient’s protected health information (PHI) must stay protected by healthcare providers and covered entities who utilize electronic communications such as SMS.
If HIPAA compliance is not followed, your business or practice could face substantial penalties. According to the HIPAA journal, a single breach could cost up to $50,000 USD.
Is SMS texting HIPAA compliant?
Because patient information, including personal identifiers, requires additional protection and security measures to ensure privacy, SMS is not always HIPAA-compliant. According to the HIPAA security rule, encryption is a crucial requirement for the transit of electronic communications between patients and providers.
It is up to healthcare providers and practices to ensure their messaging content complies with HIPAA rules.
Top tip: encryption means data gets concealed by converting it into a code.
SMS technology did not initially get built for messages to get sent with encryption. This means that other users may gain unauthorized access to sensitive information, such as PHI, through illegal or accidental means.
Best practice tips to send secure HIPAA SMS.
In 2013, HIPAA enacted a final omnibus ruling stating that as long as healthcare providers adhered to three specific conditions, they could send PHI over unencrypted emails. In 2018, the Director of the HIPAA enforcement agency Roger Severino came out to say he believes the same rules should apply to text messaging and other forms of communication.
To send and receive PHI communications to patients over unencrypted channels, the provider must:
- Inform the patient of the encryption risk
- Gain authorization that the patient is willing to accept the risk
- Document the patient’s consent
Additionally, we also recommend healthcare providers:
- Acquire and document consent for all communications
- Check and maintain correct phone records by requiring 2FA (2-factor authentication) when first onboarding
- Send SMS reminders to patients to update their contact details regularly
- Always include the option for patients to opt-out of receiving SMS
- Make communications single purpose (i.e. do not combine appointment reminders and marketing in the same message)
- Educate and train all healthcare staff on the proper use and misuse of SMS messaging (as well as what constitutes a HIPAA violation)
Keep in mind, if healthcare communications do not contain PHI, HIPAA rules do not apply.
Note: This article is not legal advice. MessageMedia will not be responsible for any reliance or action you take due to this article’s content.
Examples of HIPAA-compliant text messages.
Despite the stringent rules around sending secure text messaging in healthcare, there are many ways you can still comply with HIPAA regulations. If you send a message that pertains directly to a patient’s health but does not contain PHI, it is exempt from requiring a patient’s consent.
Here are a few samples of secure healthcare text messages.
1. Appointment confirmations
2. Prescription reminders
3. Patient follow-ups
4. Staff communications
Top tip: our customers can send SMS directly from existing software tools, including Epic MyChart. Learn about our integration with Epic Systems.
Other advantages of texting in the healthcare industry.
Sending healthcare communications can be very beneficial to your practice. One of our customers cut their staff agency costs by 20% by using SMS to fill vacant shifts.
Consider all the different ways you can use SMS to engage with and create better relationships with your patients. Make sure to check out:
- Grab more ready-to-use SMS templates for healthcare
- Check out our guide on SMS for healthcare services
- How to reduce no-shows with patient text reminders
- Learn how SMS improves efficiencies in medical centers