Texting: A Medical Risk Nightmare?

According to HIPAA expert and Medical Risk Management Founder & President, Michael Sacopulos, patientNOW is the only EMR / Practice Management and Patient Engagement vendor in the country to provide an automated software solution that captures texts between the patient and the office, both incoming and outgoing, and files them directly in the patient’s medical record. “This is exciting new technology that is beneficial in several ways,” Sacopulos believes. He goes on to point out that capturing texts in the patient’s chart, “Improves HIPAA compliance and decreases professional liability.”

Texting technology, also known as SMS or MMS (for texts with picture attachments), is proving to be the number one method of communicating in the United States and elsewhere. The wide availability of text-enabled mobile phones, combined with the convenience of texting for both the patient and the medical provider, make texting as a method to communicate with patients extremely attractive. In addition, texting has crossed the generation barrier; people of all ages, from their teens into their nineties can text.

patientNOW is the only EMR / Practice Management and Patient Engagement vendor in the country to provide an automated software solution that captures texts between the patient and the office, both incoming and outgoing, and files them directly in the patient’s medical record.

What many medical practitioners do not realize, is the medical liability and HIPAA risks of using text to communicate with patients. The Joint Commission (JCAHO) which is an independent non-profit organization that accredits and certifies more than 20,500 healthcare organizations in the U.S. advises caution with regard to texting and does not have an accreditation standard related to texting.(1) In a blog posted June 17, 2015, Mark G. Pelletier, R.N., M.S. outlines the Joint Commission’s position on texting which comes down to “. . .for medical care, it’s just not what the doctor ordered.”(2) One of the prime concerns outlined in the article in addition to “confusion and communication problems” were issues surrounding Protected Health Information (PHI). “A patient’s status, test results or identification issues are hard to disguise in quick communications, and the possibility of a phone ending up in the hands of someone who should not see the PHI is possible and a sticky situation for health care providers.”

Pelletier’s article exposes the two areas of primary risk for the medical practitioner:

  1. The text is not captured in the patient’s medical record, which creates the medical liability risk.
  2. The practitioner has no signed consent to communicate with the patient via text. While the inbound texts from the patient do not pose a problem, any text from the office to the patient essentially creates a HIPAA breach by openly transmitting PHI – protected health information – without the patient’s explicit consent.

patientNOW is the first electronic health record vendor to send and receive texts directly in the patient’s medical record. By removing a primary area of risk, patientNOW allows the practitioner to see the many benefits of using text to communicate with patients. While the practitioner must meet the HIPAA requirement to get a signed consent to communicate with the patient through texting, patientNOW has built in a unsubscribe functionality that covers a possible future change of heart by the patient.

“One of the great problems in defending many medical malpractice claims comes from the chart,” Sacopulos believes. “I have been involved in countless cases where information was either not included in the chart or was later disputed by a patient. With this impressive new technology from patientNOW, charting will be more accurate and comprehensive.” By capturing a transcript of the text communications in the patient’s chart, much of the room for accidental omission of facts and memory failure disappears. This is clearly a protective feature for both patient and provider.

Additional touches between the office and the patient work to solidify the provider-patient relationship. According to an article by Rachael Zimlick in Medical Economics, “digital communication also can help physicians gain trust in an era when little opportunity exists to take more time to bond with patients during office visits”.

At a recent plastic surgery meeting in Las Vegas, Jerry Jacobson, Founder and CEO of patientNOW, met with plastic surgeons who reported an increase in efficiency and convenience for both the patient and the office by communicating via text message. By allowing the patient to send photos of the area of concern prior to surgery or a picture of a post-operative wound to the physician, an office visit can frequently be prevented. The surgeons also noted that the quick review and response gave the patient tremendous peace of mind and felt this built trust and confidence with the patient.

emr-text-messagepatientNOW developed a 2-way texting system to meet the emerging needs of an aesthetic or cosmetic practice. The complete solution is built in to all of the following:

  • Appointment Reminders that allow the patient to confirm by responding with a single digit
  • Schedule communications
  • Pre and post op reminders
  • Marketing communications
  • Pre-operative pictures with questions
  • Post-operative wound or area pictures with questions

Scot Bradley Glasberg, M.D, President of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons commented on the new texting feature in patientNOW to be released this summer, “In selecting Endorsed Solutions for members of our Society we look for innovative companies that can provide unique and added value to a member’s medical practice. The patientNOW texting feature demonstrates why we chose them as an Endorsed Partner; this functionality protects physicians and their businesses by addressing liability issues and at the same time facilitating communication between the practice and the patient. Job well done.”

DOWNLOAD-PDF

Footnotes:

The Joint Commission, Blog Detail Page, The View From The Joint Commission, Mark G. Pelletier, R.N., M.S., June 17, 2015
JCAHO, Blog Detail Page, The View From The Joint Commission, Mark G. Pelletier, R.N., M.S., June 17, 2015