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CMS Memo Clears Up Confusion around Texting of Patient Information

January 2, 2018
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently released a notice clarifying its position on when the texting of patient information is permitted for providers.

CMS said in the notice that “The practice of texting orders from a provider to a member of the care team is not in compliance with the Conditions of Participation (CoPs) or Conditions for Coverage (CfCs).”

The agency said it recognizes that the use of texting as a means of communication with other members of the healthcare team “has become an essential and valuable means of communication among the team members,” but that “in order to be compliant with the CoPs or CfCs, all providers must utilize and maintain systems/platforms that are secure, encrypted, and minimize the risks to patient privacy and confidentiality as per HIPAA regulations and the CoPs or CfCs. 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.”

As such, according to the memo, texting patient information among members of the healthcare team is permissible if accomplished through a secure platform, though the texting of patient orders is prohibited, no matter what platform is being used. And CPOE (computerized provider order entry) is the preferred method of order entry by a provider, CMS attested.

The clarification from CMS came following a story in the Report on Medicare Compliance newsletter, distributed by the Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA), which noted that CMS recently sent emails to two hospitals saying, “texting is not permitted”—including secure text messaging applications.

But the latest memo from CMS clarifies the agency’s position on provider texting after some hospital executives, compliance officers, lawyers and HIPAA experts were “stunned” by the CMS emails as they were under the assumption that secure texting is commonplace among healthcare organizations, the newsletter reported.

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