Have you ever said…
“If only I had someone to ask!”
Each month, we discuss your questions about practice management, human resources issues, clinic management best practices, procedures, resources, practical privacy tips, and more in Practice Management Success membership.
In this Q&A, we're talking about:
Can you use text messaging with patients?
Can you use text messaging with patients?
The short answer is, ‘Yes’.
The longer answer is ‘Yes, but . . . make sure that you are really clear about why you want to use text messaging, carefully plan the implementation and monitor its use.’
What is the Purpose for Texting?
Clinics are feeling pressured to provide texting as a communication option to their patients.
It is important to be clear about why you want to use texting.
Texting from the Patient to the Clinic
What is the primary purpose for patients to text the clinic? It may be because they are in a remote community and texting is the only way to keep in touch with their healthcare provider. You might choose to accept text messages for appointment requests or continuing care and treatment.
Texting is generally not a secure communication method. It is difficult to confirm the identity of both the sender and receiver which can result in both communication and medical error.
What Are the Risks?
As the custodian, you need to weigh the risks of using texting vs not using texting. For example, if your work includes assisting people who are in crisis or are otherwise at risk, you may decide that the risk to the patient who has access to their healthcare provider using unsecured text messaging is less of a risk than the patient who experiences a critical incident and does not have other access to their healthcare provider.
You must decide what are the acceptable risks and appropriate use of text messaging.
I find that creating scenarios is a good way to do help you set up your boundaries. In what situations is using text messaging OK? In what scenarios is it not appropriate to use text messaging? Are there alternative technologies that can better, and more securely, meet these needs?
Record your reasons about what you will – and what you won’t – accept in your text messaging solution as part of your project documentation and implementation training.
Workflow When You Receive Text Messages from the Patient
Consider how you will document the communication from your patient into the patient’s health record.
- Is the device to receive the text message registered with the clinic?
- Who will receive the text message from the patient?
- How will you transpose that meaningful communication with the patient to the patients’ health record?
Be guided by the discussions in your team and with your patients to develop your policies and risk mitigation plans.
Texting From the Clinic to the Patient
Is your goal of a text solution to automate a workflow like routine appointment reminders? Or, perhaps, some episodic messaging like offering follow up appointments to discuss test results?
Remember that the custodian (physician, pharmacist, dentist, dental hygienist, chiropractor, and more) assumes the risk of using unsecure technology. You can’t transfer the risk to the patient. However, you can mitigate the risk of error and unauthorized use of the health information by creating rules for use and ensuring that the patient understands:
- how the technology is used,
- your offer to use the technology in your healthcare practice,
- the risks to the patient’s privacy and security of their personal information,
- the patients’ role to prevent misuse of their personal health information, and
- an agreement to follow the rules about the technology solution.
If you are a member of Practice Management Success, click here to access the sample authorization agreement.
Alternate Technology Solutions
There are some third party vendors that can help you with routine text messaging with your patients. Wherever possible, use two factor authentication. For example, you might have a system where the patient must enter a PIN number before they can read the entire message from the clinic.
There are trusted technology solutions that you can use for text messaging. Many EMR providers now allow the clinic to text message your patients right from the EMR or patients can access the EMR using a patient portal. This is, by far, the most efficient workflow. It is usually the most secure technology and integrates the communication into the patients’ health record without copying and pasting, uploading, or re-typing into the patient record.
Microquest’s Healthquest EMR, for example, offers integrated appointment reminders via email, text, or voice messaging. Clinics can also allow patients to book their own appointments online with an online calendar integrated to the clinic’s Healthquest EMR.
Alternate third party texting solutions from trusted vendors that we have interviewed on our podcast, Practice Management Nuggets for Your Healthcare Practice, include Bleen and ezReferral.
Bleen is a third party patient appointment management application that allows patients to register with your clinic to receive appointment reminders by text message or phone call. The system also provides a self-help solution to patients to schedule their own appointment with their healthcare providers.
Clients with Bleen have seen dramatic changes in their patient management resources – reducing 40% to 60% of phone calls and 75% of no shows.
ezReferral provides a third party referral management application that improves communication between the patient and the referring and consulting providers. The system saves an average of 60 minutes of staff time for each referral and improves the patients’ access to health care in a timely, efficient manner. It also includes a built-in secure fax solution.
This solution is ideal for healthcare practices with referrals within the medical community and even better when you are working with multidisciplinary referral teams. ezReferral works well for both paper based and electronic medical record based practices.
Privacy Impact Assessment
Before you implement a text solution to your practice you need to update your privacy impact assessment (PIA) or prepare a new, project based PIA. This doesn't have to be a big undertaking but it is really important that you take the time to design and document your application and implementation.
If you need some help with your PIA, I encourage you to take a look at our on-line e-course, Protect Your Practice, Your Assets, and Your Patients with Privacy Impact Assessments.
Efficient work flow, clear procedures, and rules of use authorization with your patients improves the likelihood that text messages will be used the way that you intended. However, these practices does not make the technology breach-proof. Carefully consider the merits of text messaging and how you can mitigate the risks before implementing text messaging in your healthcare practice.
If you are a member of Practice Management Success, login and access the webinar replay, and the patient authorization form template.
When we know better, we can do better…
Jean L. Eaton is constructively obsessive about privacy, confidentiality, and security expecially when it comes to the handling of personal health information. If you would like to discuss how I can help your practice, just send me an email. I am here to help you.
Jean L. Eaton
Your Practical Privacy Coach