CMS reaffirms its ban on texting physician orders, clarifies patient information exchange

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Clearing up some confusion, CMS said hospitals are allowed to exchange information via text on a secure platform.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services clarified its position on texting in a new memo to state surveyors this week, noting that while texting physician orders is still prohibited, exchanging patient information on a secure platform is permitted.

The clarification comes weeks after the Report on Medicare Compliance, a newsletter distributed by the Health Care Compliance Association, reported that at least two hospitals received emails from CMS that said texting of any kind is prohibited. That shift came as a surprise to attorneys at Hall Render, who outlined several approaches for hospitals in the process of acquiring a secure messaging platform.

In a memo released on Thursday to state survey agencies, CMS clarified that while texting patient orders is still prohibited regardless of the platform, members of the healthcare team are allowed to text patient information through a secure platform.

While recognizing that texting “has become an essential and valuable means of communication among the team members,” CMS said in order to meet federal regulations, hospitals must use a messaging platform that is “secure, encrypted, and minimize the risks to patient privacy and confidentiality as per HIPAA regulations.”

RELATED: Joint Commission reaffirms ban on texting orders

“It is expected that providers/organizations will implement procedures/processes that routinely assess the security and integrity of the texting systems/platforms that are being utilized, in order to avoid negative outcomes that could compromise the care of patients,” the memo states.

Despite the confusion, that position mirrors guidance the agency unveiled a year ago in conjunction with The Joint Commission, which banned the use of text messaging for treatment orders. Regulators underscored concerns about inputting orders into the EHR, adding that computerized provider order entry is the preferred method to ensure accuracy and allow clinicians to respond to clinical decision support alerts.