Healthcare Firms Texting Their Patients: Fair, or Foul?

January 16th, 2017
Healthcare Text Messaging

Healthcare firms must consider the impact on patient security when sending text messages.

In a world growing more and more obsessed with the mobile phone with each second that passes, the quickest form of communication wins.  Ask yourself if you listened to every single voicemail you got this week and you’ll say you probably can’t even remember checking them.  For healthcare providers handling protected health information, the odds of reaching a busy patient without using text messaging are low.  Is it fair or foul to send an SMS, or “text” message in this case?

Yes – Text It!

Some may argue that a healthcare provider can send a patient a text as long as the content does not contain PHI, or protected health information.  For example, instead of saying, “We got the results of your blood test. You’re pregnant!”, the text could go something like this: “Please call our office to obtain test results.” Some people may feel that because the message contains no specific information, it is fair to send.

No – Don’t Text It!

In the abovementioned case, the question becomes what sensitive information a hacker could gain from a seemingly generic text.  If a gynecologist’s office is texting about test results, therein lies a clear implication that the patient has some kind of gynecological question or issue.  Is that enough to qualify as a violation of privacy?  Some people may qualify this as a foul.  So in this case, do we have to dilute the text message even more? If so, what can we possibly say that would not be so generic that the patient would discard it as junk mail and not even read it?

The Bottom Line

This question makes quite a conundrum for healthcare providers. More patients and more testing renders more burden on workflow if communication can’t happen as quickly as possible over a mobile phone. However, all communications must be secure enough to align with HIPAA regulations. If not, the penalties are severe.

The final answer will rest within the realm of technological innovation. Telecom firms servicing the healthcare industry, such as Cortel Business Solutions, leverage Mitel’s MiCollab Client app which provides a secure “chat” feature that is integrated with the phone system.  For more information about how this can facilitate timely communications with patients through the mobile phone, please contact us.