CMS Updates Its Position on Texting Patient Information

January 11, 2018 | Health Services

Recognizing that texting has become a valuable and essential means of communication among providers, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently issued new guidance regarding its position on texting of patient information. The guidance clarifies that texting patient information may be permissible if certain security standards are met, but it also distinguishes between texting patient information and texting patient orders, the latter of which is not permitted.

In order to protect the integrity of the patient information that may be communicated through text messages, CMS explains that providers should only use secure texting platforms that meet the privacy and security standards under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and the regulations promulgated thereunder. It should be noted that the CMS guidance also states that the texting platform should be encrypted.

CMS also distinguishes between texting of patient information and texting of patient orders. In its guidance, CMS states that texting patient orders is not permissible under any circumstances, regardless of whether a secure platform is used. CMS cites the hospital Condition of Participation for medical records, which requires the maintenance of a medical record for each patient that is accurate, complete, accessible and retained in its original or legally reproduced form for a period of at least five years. Patient orders are part of a complete medical record and, therefore, are subject to the same standards. In order to ensure that patient orders are retained in their “original or legally reproduced form,” CMS recommends that practitioners enter orders into the medical record via a handwritten order or Computerized Provider Order Entry (CPOE), which immediately downloads the order into the patient’s electronic health record.

Hospitals and other providers are encouraged to review their texting policies to ensure compliance with CMS standards. The CMS guidance on texting of patient information and patient orders is available here. Providers should also consult the December 2016 guidance on this topic issued by The Joint Commission, available here.

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