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To Text or Not To Text: Texting under HIPAA

Monday, February 29th, 2016

Sending text messages under HIPAA

Sometimes, technology just sneaks up on you. Patients want to speak with you – stat – about lab results or to schedule, be reminded of, and confirm an appointment without an interminable wait in the phone queue. Patients want text messaging — which has quickly become the new normal for everyday communication ā€” to be used routinely for their healthcare needs, as well. You hesitate, concerned not only about the appropriateness of text messaging, but the legal ramifications. These are legitimate concerns.

HIPAA unambiguously states that sending health information in a text message is a straight up violation, unless it is to a patient and a proper consent form has been signed (as discussed below). This provision applies to messages as simple as appointment reminders. If you engage in such a practice and do not document context, consideration, and patient consent, you will be in willful neglect and quite possibly assessed up to $50,000 for each text message.

Why is text messaging such a hot-button issue to HIPAA enforcers? Under what conditions can health information be sent by way of regular text messages? The good news is that you can secure text messages rather simply and not jeopardize your patientsā€™ privacy or your healthcare practice. Please read on.

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