More than six billion texts are sent every day. It’s not just teenagers relying on this type of technology to communicate, though. Approximately 81 percent of Americans text regularly — including healthcare providers. 

About 70 percent of physician practices utilize some form of text messaging to communicate with their patients. Roughly 87 percent of physicians and 67 percent of nurses utilize personal mobile devices to support their workflows with encrypted texting, and 60-80 percent of clinical staff exchange text messages related to patient care.  

These healthcare providers employ texting technology for a variety of uses, from scheduling and confirming appointments to answering patient questions, sending appointment reminders, reminding patients to pay outstanding balances and communicating with their colleagues and staff. A majority of patients prefer text messages over phone calls and email, anyway. 

The perks of text messaging for providers go beyond convenience. As a scalable medium for conducting automated patient outreach, text messaging generates better outcomes amidst today’s complex healthcare landscape. That’s because it typically increases appointment attendance, drives preventative care, enhances chronic disease management, improves medication adherence and reduces hospital admissions. 

Overwhelmed by those necessary but often burdensome and time-consuming administrative tasks? Medical groups equipped with HIPAA-compliant text messaging cut down on phone calls, simplify and streamline appointment scheduling to reduce patient no-shows and cancellations and improve staff productivity. 

Adhering to healthcare-specific rules and regulations is, of course, crucial for healthcare providers employing text messaging. Without following these guidelines and industry best practices, providers risk hefty fines and fees, patient dissatisfaction, lost revenue and a damaged reputation. 

Best Practice #1: Use a Secure Messaging Platform 

Text messaging by healthcare providers is only a valuable resource if it meets the rules and regulations of the Security Rule of HIPAA. Isn’t every digital health platform HIPAA-compliant, you might ask? Unfortunately, the answer is “no” — Secure text messaging platforms incorporate administrative, physical and technical safeguards to ensure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of electronic protected health information (PHI). 

Patients expect PHI to be kept secure — especially when it is shared between providers and facilities. Let patients know the tools you are offering for their use are built with strict security measures (i.e., every message protected with full end-to-end encryption). And, try to limit the amount of PHI in your text messages. 

It’s crucial for healthcare providers to establish privacy and security measures that prevent unauthorized access to PHI from any mobile device. Doing so ensures they protect the integrity of PHI and encrypt it during transmission. 

Best Practice #2: Procure Patient Consent 

For a provider to send a text message with PHI to a patient, that patient must give his or her consent or risk being in violation of the HIPAA Security Rule. Absolutely no personal identifiers should be included in a provider-to-patient text message without permission from the patient. Texting patients without their permission can result in costly HIPAA violation fines and non-compliance with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) 

Include an opt-out method for patients who no longer want to be contacted via text, and honor such requests immediately. Furthermore, consider implementing policies and procedures for managing and responding to patient opt-outs. 

Best Practice #3: Keep it Short and Sweet 

Unlike an email or letter where you have room to expand upon the information you are sending to your patients, text messages only allow a total of 160 characters before turning into a multi-part message. This isn’t just a best practice – it’s a TCPA rule. Text messages to patients should contain only the essential information, including who is sending it, the date, time and location of appointment and steps for confirming, rescheduling or canceling it. 

Ensure the information included in the next message is relevant to each patient, and avoid using confusing medical jargon. Also, do not send too many text messages to patients in a short period of time — unless it is part of a two-way dialogue. 

Best Practice #4: Personalize When Possible 

Selecting the right tone for patient messages is important — you want to be friendly but professional. Always use the patient’s first name, and let them know they can text back. Delivering customized or personalized messages that contain relevant patient education, health information and navigation support empowers patients to make healthcare decisions more easily..

Best Practice #5: Regularly Educate and Train Staff 

It is typical for providers to train and educate their staff members about tools, technology and procedures they employ as part of their job. This process should include sessions on maintaining confidentiality and data security along with knowing and understanding HIPAA and TCPA guidelines. 

Providertech’s HIPAA-compliant text messaging platform increases operational efficiency while optimizing patient care. Our two-way text messaging solution allows healthcare providers to clearly communicate with patients in between visits, respond to routine requests without picking up the phone and more. Book a meeting with us today to learn more!