Patient communication has never been more critical than it is now. Many providers are concerned about the rules and regulations for emailing and texting patients. Patient privacy is very important but so is patient access. Whether it is related to existing appointments, general education, or follow-up, one of the best ways to reach out to patients is via text message. Unfortunately, many healthcare organizations shy away from sending text messages due to a fear of compliance breaches. Here is an overview of the regulations and how you can ensure you are complaint.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is a federal law that regulates the way consumers are contacted by telephone, fax, and text message (TCPA does NOT cover email). These regulations apply to the text and automated landline messages you send to your patients. The TCPA requires that companies obtain consent from consumers prior to sending any sort of text or automated telephone messages, unless an exemption applies. Many messages fall under that exemption. According to the FCC,
“Non-telemarketing healthcare calls, for which the called party is not charged, are exempt from the prior express consent requirement.” For example:
- Appointment and exam confirmations and reminders
- Wellness check-ups
- Hospital pre-registration instructions
- Pre-operative instructions
- Lab results
- Post-discharge follow- up intended to prevent readmission; prescription notifications
- Home healthcare instructions
Healthcare calls related to accounting, billing, debt collection, or containing other financial content are not part of this exemption.
In an April 1, 2021, Supreme Court decision, the court narrowed the definition of the autodialer standard under the TCPA in a move that offers further freedoms to businesses and organizations and rejects a broader more consumer-friendly interpretation of the standard. In essence, the decision means that the TCPA can only cover random-fired calls and texts to cellphones from an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS) or autodialer.
The unanimous opinion establishes that messaging systems can't be regulated as a TCPA autodialer because it "has the capacity either to store a telephone number using a random or sequential number generator, or to produce a telephone number using a random or sequential number generator."
The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED) in an addition to TCPA that focuses specifically on efforts to regulate unlawful robocalls.
Whether or not you officially need consent, it is always a good idea to cover your bases and have patients fill out a form giving consent before you send out messages (especially any marketing messages).
Here are a few easy ways to get the consent you need to stay safe:
- Ask during appointment scheduling. When you are speaking with a patient about an upcoming appointment is a great time to suggest text messaging consent. Ask if they would like a reminder by text, email, or phone. You should also find out at this point if they would be interested in other text messages like health reminders, care tips, or about new services/products you offer. If they indicate they are interested, send them to a place where they can sign for that consent.
- On your in-take forms. For new patients, including a form that asks for consent to be contacted via text message is a great practice. Be sure to include an explanation (and options) for what different texting might look like. Are you going to be sending simple reminders or will you be sending info about your practice as well? Be sure to include information on how patients can opt out at any time.
- Waiting room or exam room. While your patient is waiting in the office is a great time to highlight the benefits of text messaging. Include a sign or poster that walks patients through the benefits of signing up for the texting service. Let them know you will be sending health tips along with alerts for new services.
- Email. Since email does not have the same restrictions that phone and text do, sending out an email inviting patients give their consent to receive text messages is very effective. Here is an example an email you could use to send to your patients:
Important - Update your text messaging preferences with (ORGANIZATION NAME)
Dear (Patient Name),
Your healthcare is important to us. In order to provide you with the best possible care, we occasionally send convenient text messages to our patients about their healthcare and the products and services we offer.
The mobile device(s) associated with your patient files at (ORGANIZATIONNAME) can be found below:
You are currently set to receive text messages for appointment reminders and information about your healthcare treatment, but you will not receive text messages about promotions or other services we offer. If you wish to change your preferences in order to receive promotional text messages or if you wish to decline receiving all text messages from (ORGANIZATION NAME), click here.
Can't see the image above? Click here to manage texting preferences.
Click here to go to a web page where you will be able to provide your consent for receiving text messages from time to time about the products and services we offer our patients.
We look forward to providing better and more convenient communications with you via text messaging. Our goal is to provide you with relevant and useful information about your health care and the products and services we offer for improving your health. Thank you!
If you'd like to read more about how different regulations may impact your texting and/or email, check out our free guide, Become a Text and Email Compliance Guru.
This post was first published on the Solutionreach blog on 2/12/20, and has been duplicated here with the permission of the editor.