In case you missed it (ICYMI), text messaging, or Short Messaging Service (SMS), has come a long way in the past 29 years. From texting T9 (text on nine keys) style on flip phones to saying “Hey Siri!” on smartphones, digital communications has been forever changed with the advent of typing on the go. Texting has become the preferred method patients use to stay connected, cheering TGIF (Thank Goodness it’s Friday) or rolling on the floor laughing (ROFL). But, it can be used for far more than sharing fun acronyms. It’s also an unmatched tool for patient engagement utilizing a platform they’re already picking up every two minutes and 43 seconds.

Knowing the benefits of texting and best practices and HIPAA rules to follow can equip providers to better communicate with their patients and enhance patient engagement. This blog unpacks the data behind cell phone texting and explains why patients are continually eyeing their devices. Learn how providers can leverage text messaging to cut down calls, simplify appointment scheduling and minimize no-shows. Also, find out the importance of HIPAA compliance and how to navigate through corresponding best practices.

Who’s Communicating via Text: A Statistical Overview

This type of communication isn’t just for patients. Eighty-seven percent of physicians and 67 percent of nurses use personal mobile devices to support their workflows. With so many finding ways to utilize this technology, it’s imperative to harness the benefits obtained with text messaging.

Why Patients Prefer Communicating via Text

Unlike other communication methods, texting allows patients to send and receive messages with only their cell phones in hand. They don’t have to schedule a call during office hours, write down information or listen to automated voice prompt menus. 

Also, because no logins are required, texting is an ideal platform through which patients can schedule doctor’s appointments while waiting to pick up the kids from school or grabbing lunch. An added advantage? Providing patients with a communication method they prefer can help improve patient satisfaction and engagement.

Benefits Providers are Reaping from Secure Text Messaging

Cutting Down Phone Calls

In one case study, the front office staff of a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) reduced 75 percent of their time on outward-bound calls with automated texting. This has freed up a tremendous amount of time for their providers, allowing them to reallocate time savings and focus on engaging with incoming calls, directing patients to the appropriate care they need and performing insurance eligibility verification – a task vital to their bottom line.

Simplifying Appointment Scheduling

With patients spending half their waking hours on digital media, practices are recognizing the need for self-scheduling as a way to make appointments. Accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, patients are readily anticipating and expecting the need to reserve everything from dinner plans to a seat at their favorite movie theater. 

Online scheduling is quickly becoming a higher priority than appointment availability in the eyes of many patients. When choosing a specialist, four in five patients would rather choose a physician with less availability but with online scheduling options compared with the reverse. With this trend in mind, doesn’t it make sense for providers to offer patients the option to self-schedule healthcare appointments online, especially with a platform that’s seeing more engagements and higher interactions? 

Minimizing No-Shows

Patient no-shows consume 14 percent of a practice’s daily revenue. For a solo physician practice, it can result in a staggering $150,000 annually in missed revenue. For providers seeking to increase patient engagement, minimizing no-shows is one of the best places to start. 

The radiology department of an Ohio-based hospital struggled with no-show rates for 11-20 percent of their 19,000 patients annually. Because most of their imaging tests require special patient preparation, patients were encouraged to schedule appointments. However, patients were delaying or skipping necessary diagnosis and treatment, thereby increasing no-show rates.

To address this issue, the hospital worked with a dedicated technical implementation team to seamlessly integrate Providertech’s HIPAA-compliant CareX platform into their Meditech Electronic Health Record (EHR). The hospital appreciated the ability to completely customize the text message content and frequency based on their business needs. They were able to determine how and when SMS messages should be delivered. Next, they established protocols that pulled records from their Electronic Medical Record (EMR) based on appointment types and providers and distributed appointment reminders at predetermined intervals. This allowed patients to quickly confirm appointments at their fingertips, or cancel, if necessary. 

Six weeks after go-live, all four appointment types saw noticeable decreases in no-show rates. Ultrasound and CT scan appointments measured no-show rates of less than ten percent, and the cancellation rate for EMG appointments dropped twenty percent. 

By automating appointment reminders, providers can reduce no-shows while leveraging existing resources. This is especially important as the workforce shortage and clinician burnout continue to be prevalent among healthcare providers for the foreseeable future. 

Best Practices for Keeping Patient Texting HIPAA-Compliant

HIPAA Requirements Document Seen Through Magnifying Glass

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Administrative Simplification Regulation Text amounts to a daunting 115 pages of legal jargon, definitions, modifications, rules and exceptions. To save time, we’re outlining the importance of HIPAA terms, laws and best practices when it comes to utilizing secure text messaging communication for patient engagement.

The Importance of HIPAA-Compliance in Healthcare

There are enormous benefits to text messaging, but there are also some HIPAA violation risks to be aware of. Texting leaves a digital footprint for messages sent, including day, time and context. If SMS messaging contains a patient’s protected health information (PHI), the text message has to be compliant with HIPAA rules and best practices to prevent identity theft and data breaches.

What are the HIPAA Laws and Regulations Regarding SMS Messaging?

If you’ve ever wondered, “Is texting HIPAA compliant?” you’re not alone. With this form of messaging communication becoming one of the top ways that patients want to be contacted, it has many providers wanting to get quick answers to their most pressing HIPAA questions.

So, is texting HIPAA compliant? The short answer is yes. Text messaging is HIPAA-compliant under certain circumstances and provided that “administrative, physical and technical safeguards [exist] to ensure the confidentiality, integrity and security of electronically stored or transmitted private health information.

Doctors, nurses and other providers can communicate with patients and each other using text messaging. However, a list of HIPAA requirements must be met before providers can integrate SMS messaging.

One of the best ways healthcare organizations can enforce HIPAA compliance through texting is by ensuring that all employees, affiliates, physicians and third-party contractors and vendors know and apply HIPAA guidelines for establishing technical safeguards for protecting PHI. This is especially important for healthcare professionals who send and receive mobile phone texts.

Five HIPAA rules to keep in mind for securely managing health information while communicating with SMS messaging are:

  1. Establish procedures and policies to manage who is authorized to access PHI when texting.
  2. Implement audit and reporting controls for HIPAA-compliant texting.
  3. Ensure PHI is not improperly changed or destroyed during texting.
  4. Provide proof of identity before sending and receiving messages. 
  5. Guard against unauthorized access of PHI during transmission.

Integrate Providertech’s CareMessenger to Introduce HIPAA-Compliant Texting for Patient Engagement

CareMessenger streamlines patient communication with secure, two-way texting. With built-in HIPAA compliance, Providertech’s messaging solution increases operational efficiency and optimizes patient care. 

By staying connected with CareMessenger, you can:

  • Help close patient care gaps.
  • Clearly communicate with patients between visits.
  • Navigate patients through the often complex healthcare system.
  • Communicate with patients about population-based care.
  • Respond to routine requests without picking up the phone.

Ready to securely connect with your patients using HIPAA-compliant texting? Schedule a demo of CareMessenger, and receive a complimentary systems assessment.