Benjamin Franklin famously said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Perhaps never was this sentiment more apt to healthcare than in the last few years of continual crises and global upheaval. As a result, healthcare practices have had to plan ahead to expect the unexpected.
And when it comes to patient communications, there’s no more powerful tool than group messaging when you need to urgently reach your patients en masse. Let’s look at what group messaging is, how it can benefit your practice in a tight spot, and how to stay compliant when using a group messaging tool.
What is Group Messaging?
Quite simply, group messaging is the capability to communicate quickly and broadly with a targeted group of patients—or all your patients at once—when the need arises. Group messaging includes both group text messages and group emails.
For example, you might need to send a group message in the following scenarios:
- Follow-up care for specific diagnoses
- Emergency closures due to severe weather
- Schedule changes due to practitioner illness
- Mass health safety alerts
- ASAP/waitlist updates
- Marketing purposes
Why Is Group Messaging Important?
When the unexpected happens or you’re in a jam, the last thing you want is for your front office staff to be stuck trying to communicate with a large number of patients individually by phone calls. Most people don’t answer calls from numbers they don’t recognize and similar numbers don’t check their voicemails.
If you’re trying to hurriedly contact a group of patients with scheduled appointments for a particular time period, phone calls are probably the least effective way of getting a hold of them.
In a text message-centric world, texting is the fastest and most effective approach to reaching the highest number of patients in the shortest amount of time. Sending a group text via a robust group texting tool enables you to:
- Create efficiencies of scale
- Amplify your message delivery capabilities
- Increase staff productivity
- Reliably reach patients with important messages and reschedule appointments
What Do I Need to Know About Group Messaging Regulations and Compliance?
The key here is that different regulatory requirements apply to how you deliver “healthcare” group messages versus “marketing” group messages. It’s incredibly important that your staff knows the difference ahead of time so that your critical messages reach the right patients while also keeping your practice compliant.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is a U.S. law originally enacted to cover phone and fax spam expanded over the years to include text messages. Its intent is to prevent the sending of unsolicited communication without a person’s appropriate consent.
One of the exceptions to TCPA is for healthcare-related messages. If you’re sending healthcare messages to your patients, they are exempt from the written consent rule. As long as patients have given you their phone numbers, you’re allowed to text them with messages about their healthcare. These include:
- Appointment reminders
- Pre-visit instructions
- Confirmation messages
- Wellness checkups
- Post-care instructions
- Post-discharge information
- Lab results
- Prescription notifications
- Home health care instructions
- Intake forms and questionnaires
On the flipside, TCPA is very clear that group texts related to marketing purposes require express written consent. These include:
- Advertisements for new services
- Solicitations to events
- Special offers and promotions
If you don’t have express written consent there are other ways to contact patients while staying TCPA compliant. The law does not cover emails or newsletters, so if it’s not urgent, those are effective ways to share information and messages, particularly for marketing your practice.
You can also use templates to more easily get express written consent from patients for text messages and group texts to help you stay TCPA compliant.
And don’t forget that even patients who have previously given their express written consent to receive marketing emails can “opt out” at any time by replying “STOP.” It’s best practice to include an opt-out token in all your applicable text messages to keep your communications aligned to your patients’ preferences.
Why Is It Important to Keep Group Messages TCPA Compliant?
As with any regulations impacting your patient communications, there can be costly penalties for violations. With TCPA, even unintentionally sending marketing-related messages to patients who haven’t given consent can lead to negative financial consequences. The TCPA has a $500 penalty per violation.
For example, if a practice sends out 5,000 marketing-related text messages to patients who have not opted in to get marketing messages, the penalty fee could potentially be in upwards of $2.5 million.
How Can I Stay TCPA Compliant When Sending Group Messages?
The most effective and affordable way to ensure your patient messages and group texts are up to regulatory snuff is with a group texting solution. Modern group texting tools allow you to select a group of patient recipients based on a variety of criteria such as age, diagnosis, appointment type, appointment date, etc.
Modern group texting tools include built-in safeguards to help ensure you avoid costly violations—like accidentally spamming large numbers of your patients with a “marketing” group text that was mislabeled “healthcare.”
These software solutions typically include explicit warning messages in the group texting tool when your staff are preparing to send group texts. For example, the tool may provide a Text Message Content Verification pop-up for you to select either “healthcare” or “marketing” prior to finalizing and sending your group text.
A group texting solution can be a valuable and versatile tool when you’re in a pinch and need to quickly message a targeted group of patients or all your patients. It can not only help your practice stay TCPA compliant and avoid costly penalties, but also allow you to effectively reach patients when time-consuming phone calls just won’t do the job.
Remember these important insights about group messaging:
- Save time and resources when a speedy message is needed by sending a group text.
- Utilize group texts for marketing purposes but ensure all recipients have given written consent before hitting that send button.
- Be cognizant that all group texts must be TCPA compliant by having express written consent when sending “marketing-related” texts.
- “Healthcare-related” group texts are exempt from TCPA regulations.
- A proven group messaging tool for texts and emails can help you quickly reach patients while also helping you stay TCPA compliant and avoid costly violations.