With a technology shift and consumers expecting convenience, the doctor to patient relationship (and vise-versa) is also transitioning. Many patients and doctor’s offices are looking to make the communication switch from standard email notifications to texting for communication. Emails are sent more often than texts, but email open rates hover around 20%, compared with 98% for text messages. With their inboxes flooding with emails, patients have started shying away from relying on this form of communication and would rather have a conversation via text with their provider. In a world where consumers and customers always win, many providers have begun to meet these expectations. While texting seems to be an easy switch, providers must consider rules and regulations to obey by HIPAA laws.
So what is HIPAA?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA, was passed by Congress in 1996 for several reasons. First, it provides the ability to transfer and continue health insurance coverage for millions of American workers and their families when they change or lose their jobs. Second, it reduces health care fraud and abuse as well as mandates industry-wide standards for health care information on electronic billing and other processes. Lastly, it requires the production and confidential handling of protected health information. That being said, there is some grey area on what doctors can or cannot text their patients while respecting HIPAA.
The problem with electronic communication is that some doctors may or may not know what they can and cannot text to patients to follow HIPAA compliance. In reality, HIPAA is not a standard set of ground rules, but rather a general consensus that can vary from patient to patient. One patient may request that the information being transmitted via text must be secured while another patient does not mind if that information is unencrypted. The best way to handle this situation is to notify patients of the risks of sending unsecured texts and make sure they know what they are agreeing to.
HIPAA compliance is crucial to follow when communicating with patients, so the best precaution that medical providers can take to make sure they are being compliant with HIPAA is obtaining permission. Consent from the patient is the best way to safely cover the providers end when it comes to allowing communication via text – there are a few different ways you can obtain that consent.
Ask during check in. The easiest way to obtain consent from the patient is during their exam check in. When patient’s come into the office it can be a simple conversation asking them if they would like to be notified in the future about upcoming appointments, reminders, etc. If they agree, the next step would be to sign proper documents that the office can have for their records and to cover their bases. A simple crafted consent form can provide proof of the agreement that will allow communication via text to take place.
Provide an option online. Usually when patients are requesting an appointment from the office online there are required fields that the patient must fill out. Having a simple section that asks the patient if they would like to be notified via text can easily cover that and allow consent. By them agreeing to text notifications the office already has a record of that consent which can held for their records.
Send an email. While there is a good chance patients already receive email notifications from their provider, it is an easy question to ask if they would like to be notified via text as well. A simple email that asks the patient for their permission to text can be used as consent, phone number verification, and proof of agreement for office records.
Prime Nexus provides offices the ability to call, text and email patients a variety of communications to streamline office efficiencies. Learn more by clicking here.