HIPAA-Compliant Uses of SMS Messaging

Shannon Flynn

Shannon Flynn is a freelance blogger who covers education technologies, cybersecurity and IoT topics. You can follow Shannon on Muck Rack or Medium to read more of her articles.

HIPAA-compliant uses of SMS messaging may not be as common as people think. HIPAA regulations include strict guidelines on how health care providers can use text and messaging. Some uses are perfectly fine, while others require precautions to protect patient data on all fronts.

Here’s a look at HIPAA-compliant SMS messaging and an overview of the guidelines messaging and health care providers should know about.

HIPAA-Compliant SMS Messaging

SMS messaging is a highly useful form of communication, but it can be a bit complicated in health care. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA, is a set of laws and regulations designed to protect patients’ data and personal information, including via text messaging.

HIPAA regulations do not prohibit the use of SMS messaging. However, health care providers must follow the rules to ensure compliance.

These regulations rule out standard text messaging for communication about patient health information (PHI). There are some HIPAA-compliant uses of SMS messaging that any health care provider can use, though.

1. Announcements and Resources

General announcements and health resources are OK to send patients over text, just as long as they don’t contain any PHI. For example, a hospital could text patients an announcement about an upcoming flu shot clinic. Similarly, providers could use SMS messaging to send resources on current health concerns, such as symptoms of a new COVID-19 variant.

2. Promotions for New Services

Health care providers can also use standard SMS messaging to send patients announcements and promotions about new services they offer. For example, a local hospital could notify patients about cancer screening services or a mental health support group.

There are many benefits to using SMS messaging for health care marketing, such as improved communication and greater convenience for patients and providers alike. As long as these messages don’t contain PHI, they’re a great way to keep people in the loop about all the services they can access.

3. Staff Notifications and Announcements

Healthcare providers can also use standard SMS messaging for internal communications. HIPAA regulations require safeguards on how staff communicates about PHI, but texting can be used for more general staff notifications. For example, an urgent care facility could use messaging to send out text alerts about a change in holiday hours or reminders about workplace events.

Tips for HIPAA-Compliant SMS Messaging

The cases above are a few of the limited HIPAA-compliant uses of standard text messaging. Texting can’t be used to communicate with patients about their care or PHI because regular SMS messaging is not compliant. If healthcare providers want to use some form of SMS messaging to communicate with their patients, there are a few things they need to know.

SMS messaging to communicate with patients can be convenient and effective for everyone involved. However, HIPAA regulations require health care providers to ensure they take the necessary steps to protect patients’ data over this kind of communication. Standard text messaging is not HIPAA compliant because it is not secure — phone providers can access users’ text messages, potentially compromising sensitive PHI.

HIPAA SMS Messaging Guidelines Overview

Health care providers using SMS messaging must utilize a HIPAA-compliant platform. Guidelines specify that SMS messages must be constantly encrypted, from sending to transmitting to receiving. There should be no opportunity for a message to be intercepted and viewed by unauthorized parties.

Additionally, the SMS platform must also provide a way for any PHI data to be remotely deleted if a device is lost or stolen. For example, if a doctor loses their phone, any PHI on the HIPAA-compliant messaging platform should be remotely removed so the thief cannot access it.

Health care providers must also ensure they have effective access control for their SMS messaging platform. Unauthorized staff and contractors should not be able to use the platform to view, download or otherwise save any PHI from SMS messages.

Choosing an SMS Messaging Provider

Health care providers should prioritize encryption and data protection when choosing an SMS messaging platform. One that includes mobile apps for Apple and Android phones will be the most effective for replicating the benefits of texting in a HIPAA-compliant way.

Additionally, healthcare providers must ensure SMS messaging platform developers understand they cannot access, save or download patient data and messages to maintain HIPAA compliance.

HIPAA-Compliant SMS Messaging

SMS messaging is one of the most convenient and effective ways to stay in touch with patients. However, health care providers must protect people’s privacy during those communications.

HIPAA-compliant uses of SMS messaging are limited, but providers can use secure platforms to gain the same benefits. This makes patient communication easy and safe at the same time.

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