As a healthcare company, you’re tasked with safeguarding sensitive patient data and managing communications with the utmost care and protection. HIPAA (Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) was signed into law in 1996, and since then, patient communications and PHI (Protected Health Information) management has been highly controlled.
But many businesses are starting to see the advantages of text messaging for healthcare providers lately. Maybe you even see other healthcare businesses using it. What you want to know is how you can text your patients in a way that’s HIPAA compliant.
The truth is, text messaging can have lots of benefits for healthcare practices. This channel is great for managing relationships with patients, updating them on critical short-form information (which can sometimes be critical to maximizing treatment), and booking or reminding them about upcoming appointments — reducing no-shows.
And you can, only under the absolute right conditions, even send PHI via text message. If you’re curious about how to use SMS for your purposes, just know that it is possible for your business to send text messages to your patients. However, certain steps have to be taken, and strict regulations have to be followed, so you don’t risk violating HIPAA protections.
The best way to stay legally protected and keep PHI secure is to use a HIPAA-compliant text messaging solution for all your business text messages.
We’ll go into more details about the types of messages you can send in this way later. First, we should make sure we cover the types of messages healthcare businesses can send to benefit from stronger patient-provider relationships and better communication.
How to use text messaging for healthcare professionals
There are lots of ways to use text messaging as a healthcare professional or organization. Some of the best uses of text messaging in healthcare include appointment confirmations, reminders, and alerts.
Appointment reminders and confirmations
Text your patients about their upcoming appointments or let them know about cancellations that impact scheduling. Using texting as a tool for reminding patients about their appointments can reduce the number of no-shows at your practice and make your scheduling more efficient. This is also a way healthcare providers can enhance the relationship they have with patients, by keeping an open channel of communications and a number for patients to reach out to you.
Appointments aren’t the only thing you can remind your patients about via text message. You can send reminders about pre-surgery protocols, making sure they’re clear on whether they should fast or stop taking certain medications and for how long. This can be a great way to ensure your patients will see the information and be more likely to streamline the surgery protocols.
Healthcare providers can also remind patients to take their medication on time, which can help improve treatment effectiveness and manage conditions.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, many healthcare facilities had to communicate to patients changes in check-in processes, certain guidelines for in-person visits, and limited hours. Alerts like these, including any emergency alerts that impact your patients, can be sent via text message, provided you use a HIPAA-certified text messaging software if there is any personal information contained in the messages.
Dealing with HIPAA-compliant text messages
In the eyes of the law, text messaging for healthcare providers can be divided into two types. On the one hand, you have texts that contain protected health information (PHI), which are subject to HIPAA regulations. On the other hand, you have business text messages that contain no PHI, which means they’re free from HIPAA restrictions.
SMS, by nature, is not HIPAA compliant. Messages sent via text message from a personal device to another phone are not necessarily encrypted or protected. Any message sent this way must not contain PHI because it’s at risk of identity theft or unauthorized access to PHI. That could be as simple as a family member or friend seeing sensitive medical information on someone else’s phone.
Wireless service providers are not technically responsible for being HIPAA compliant, which is why you’re better off using a HIPAA-certified text messaging software to send your messages through. Because PHI can include biomarkers as basic as a date of birth, you should be sure your messages are protected before sending.
Can you send PHI over text and still be HIPAA compliant?
The short, nuanced answer is yes. You can send PHI via text message and still be compliant with HIPAA restrictions if the right steps are taken and your messages are encrypted and protected from unauthorized access.
What does that mean?
It means, first of all, that you should not be sending messages to patients from your personal phone, especially if that information contains PHI. More commonly, though, it means when using text messaging for healthcare, you need to make sure the SMS solution you use is certified compliant.
To be compliant, your texting software has to prove that it’s taken the necessary precautions to keep PHI safe. That includes strong encryptions, tiered access, logging user activity, and other security measures to keep your patient information protected. By using a HIPAA-compliant text messaging service to send texts, you’re protecting both your healthcare business and your patients’ information.
We encourage you to seek legal counsel from an attorney if you have more questions about HIPAA communications, as this article is intended for your information only and does not represent legal advice.