By Fonda Narke, Director of Product Integration, West Corporation Healthcare Practice
Texting is inarguably the preferred mode of communication for many consumers (see my previous blog on how consumers have grown to rely on texting).
So why are many healthcare organizations still hesitant to text their patients? They are rightly careful about complying with regulatory requirements for patient consent and privacy. In this blog, I’ll explain how organizations can implement an effective texting strategy that aligns 100 percent with regulations.
Addressing the Compliance Side of Texting
The two primary regulations organizations must consider when building a texting strategy are:
- The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) – TCPA requires organizations in any industry—not just healthcare—to obtain consent to contact a consumer on a cellular phone device. The law protects consumers from the text-messaging version of spam (especially in the days when consumers had to pay for each text they received).
- HIPAA – We in healthcare are, of course, very familiar with HIPAA, so I won’t describe it in any detail here. The law dictates that a patient’s protected health information (PHI) can only be transmitted to healthcare consumers in a secure manner. Texting does not constitute a secure channel for sharing PHI.
So, How Can Texting Work Effectively and Compliantly in Healthcare?
At West Corporation, we manage over 500 million text messages per year. We have more than a decade of experience in helping organizations develop strategies that drive healthcare consumers to engage via text. With this extensive experience, our compliance team ensures that an organization’s text-messaging strategy meets regulations while being effective in reaching healthcare consumers.
Here’s how we do it:
- Opt-in campaigns – We run campaigns that give consumers the option to engage through text messaging.
- Pre-defined message approach – For one-on-one texting, our proprietary SMS Assistant tool allows users to select from pre-written messages. That way, there is no danger of sending a text that contains PHI.
- Campaign messages – For texts that are being sent to larger populations, our compliance experts ensure that the messages meet the regulatory obligations.
Examples of alerts and reminders that are very successful via text messaging include:
- Simple reminders for office visit appointments, lab appointments, and gaps in care; these engage patients outside the clinical setting and are extremely effective
- Call to action messages can drive patients to other communication modalities such as a ‘click to call’ text message to encourage patients to call in and take an automated health assessment survey
If consumers need more information about the alert or wish to follow up with the provider, they can simply call in and discuss PHI over the phone. In fact, some of the alerts will inform consumers that they need to contact the provider’s office.
Those organizations that want to engage consumers on their smartphones but still don’t want to embrace texting can offer a secure messaging feature within a mobile application. While this allows for the secure exchange of PHI, it requires consumers to download and install a mobile application—which can lower adoption rates significantly.
The fact remains that if healthcare organizations want to engage patients on their smartphones, modernize communication methods, and meet healthcare consumers in their channel of choice, text messaging is the way to go.
For more information on your organization can implement an effective texting strategy that aligns 100% with regulations, comment below or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.