When implementing new healthtech tools to support your practice, it’s important to understand how they comply with federal rules and regulations guiding patient communications. From appointment reminders to emailing patients to discuss health issues and leaving messages with sensitive information, our industry is highly regulated when it comes to automated and electronic communications. That’s why Vital Interaction is dedicated to helping practices better understand and implement patient consent processes that align with federal requirements.
For example, the automated voice calls that Vital Interaction delivers to residential landlines are considered “Healthcare Messages” by the FCC and are exempt from Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) liability. These are the types of text, email, and phone messages that medical practices can send without prior patient consent, written or otherwise:
- Messages related to coordination of patient care
- Appointments and exams
- Confirmations and reminders
- Wellness checkups
- Hospital pre-registration instructions
- Pre-operative instructions
- Lab results
- Post-discharge follow-up intended to prevent readmission
- Prescription notifications
- Home health care instructions
To help you better understand how electronic patient communications are regulated and how that impacts your patient engagement strategy, take a look at the different types of consent strategies we support:
Implied Consent Strategy
This approach assumes that if a patient gives contact information to an organization, then the organization will use that contact method to reach the patient. In practice, this means that there is no formal document or process, written or verbal, where a patient is requested to give consent to receive some form of automated communications.
An implied consent strategy does not create a large administrative processing burden on your staff. While this strategy is compliant with most federal regulations, there is a risk that you will sometimes send a message to a patient that did not want to receive the message. Providing an opt-out solution helps ensure this doesn’t negatively impact your relationship with these patients.
Explicit Consent Strategy
Within this format, the patient must grant explicit permission (written or verbal) that allows the medical practice to contact the patient using automated communications. The challenge with this approach is that it is difficult to implement, adding an additional burden on your staff to collect the consent from each patient. As a result, many patients may be excluded from your automated messaging campaigns, reducing their impact and minimizing the success of your patient engagement strategies. In addition, when consent expires, additional management resources must be used to update the information.
To better understand the difficulties of implementing this accountability model, we’ve compiled the four areas of explicit consent processes for both large and small organizations:
- Verbal Consent – The practice allows staff to accept verbal consent for automated communications or uses a call center to reach out to patients to collect verbal approval. This allows for flexibility in how consent is captured and reduces liability on the practice. The practice uses verbal communication by staff rather than paperwork to collect consent, reducing administrative burden.
- Blanket Statement of Consent – The practice states clearly that they will contact patients using automated voice, email, and text communications to any number or email provided. If patients don’t want to receive the notices, they must ask to be removed. This can be implemented using a written notice as part of general intake forms. This puts the onus on the patient to ask to be removed and doesn’t require collection of a specific consent for electronic communication purposes.
- Specific Language Consent – The practice shares language regarding sending automated messages and asks that the patient initial or sign the specific section of the document, often during intake. This is often an additional piece of paperwork, requiring staff to check to see if consent was given, adding additional administrative burden.
- Consent for All Types of Communication – The practice asks patients for consent to communicate via text, email, and automated messages for more than just healthcare treatment purposes, which can include payment and billing collections. This is usually a blanket statement that says we can contact you for a variety of reasons.
Opting Out is a Requirement
Federal regulations also require practices to offer an opt-out method for patients. The messages you send via phone, text and email must include an opt-out strategy within the message and the appropriate action must be taken by the practice if a patient chooses to opt-out.
Training staff on how to ensure this occurs consistently is an important part of implementing automated communications in your practice. The opt-out language should strike a balance between legal protection, patient care, and operational efficiencies because the tone you use to convey opt-out and consent information impacts patient engagement.
For help evaluating whether the patient communication tools you are using comply with federal regulations, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us today.