When patients text: 4 ways physicians can protect privacy, maintain professionalism

While the Joint Commission currently bans doctors from using text messages to order treatments, there’s no such restriction on patients and doctors communicating via texting.

But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be some guidelines to help doctors determine when it’s appropriate to reply to a patient’s text and how to send a text that meets transmission criteria, according to an article on AMA Wire. At its annual meeting in Chicago in June, the American Medical Association will consider a report from its board of trustees expanding advice on email communication to include text-based messaging with patients.

While it’s a different ballgame than texting between clinicians, here are four tips to consider if you communicate with patients via text:

Make sure patients understand the privacy issues involved. Practices should consult with their legal counsel and information technology experts to understand how to address HIPAA regulations that require healthcare organizations to protect a patient’s electronic protected health information, the AMA advises. Then remind patients that there are questions about the security of texts, even when encrypted, and the possibility of hacking.

Have your patient sign a written consent acknowledging risks including the possibility of disclosure of information to third parties. Establish boundaries for texting, including a clear understanding of time frames for your response, so patients are not texting you at all hours or on weekends.

Be professional in your responses. Don’t joke, send any emoticons, or use shorthand or abbreviations. Request the patient text you back to acknowledge receiving your message.

Don’t use a patients’ identifying information, including their full name, date of birth or Social Security number. Be aware of autocorrect functions that can change an intended word and could change your meaning or cause a misunderstanding.