In 2012, an MGMA study reported that approximately 44 percent of healthcare practices were using notifications technology to automate appointment reminders. Yet, many providers have not used notifications beyond this because they are unsure what types of patient communications fall within the limits of HIPAA regulations. The good news is that, with a solid understanding of the rules, patient engagement is a pretty open field. Consider three types of HIPAA compliant patient communication – messages that touch, engage and activate patients to drive better health outcomes.
Keeping in Touch with Patients to Reduce Missed Appointments
Touch messages are the most commonly-used in healthcare, such as reminders for patients to make and keep appointments and pay their doctor bills. Touch communications are generally the safest HIPAA compliant patient communication. If the message is generic in content, privacy and security are not issues and the communication can be delivered via IVR, text, email or mobile applications. The most common compliance culprit for touch messages is including information about the purpose of the appointment. If this or any other patient details are included, the message should be delivered using a secure mobile application.
Engaging Patients to Increase Accountability
Healthcare providers that want to go beyond touch messages can engage patients between visits with information, encouragement and support to help them be more accountable for their own health. A little knowledge goes a long way in terms of being compliant with these engagement messages. The same rules apply – generic messages are easily compliant. However, messages that reveal past or present health conditions can cause compliance concerns. The workaround to ensure HIPAA compliant patient communication is to be diligent about capturing, documenting and using patient engagement preferences and permissions. This should include both an office policy as well as a formal procedure for capturing and documenting patient preferences. Remember, the way patients prefer to receive communications from you will likely change based on the type of information being delivered.
Activating Improved Health Outcomes
With the movement toward accountable care, it’s becoming more important for providers to focus on activating patients to follow treatment plans. Activation includes ongoing reminders and alerts to take medication, check blood sugar, eat right, exercise, etc. Research shows that patients welcome activation emails, texts and voicemails from their providers telling them to do something specific, such as take medication, schedule a routine medical screening or get a flu shot. As with engagement messages, the best practice for sending HIPAA compliant patient communication for activation is to deliver the messages based on documented patient preferences.