Understanding SMS Compliance

Best Practices: Text Messaging for Doctors and Healthcare Practices

Make sure you're texting patients in compliance with HIPAA.

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If you’re eager to roll out batch text message campaigns to your leads, one of the first things you need to understand is the types of regulations that apply to gathering leads and sending text messages to them. From HIPAA to TCPA, there are many laws in place to protect consumers from privacy infractions and unsolicited promotions. It can seem overwhelming at first, but we’re here to help you set the boundaries you need for effective, compliant SMS campaigns.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) requires businesses to gain “express written consent” before soliciting them with promotional text messages. Although this consent can be given in different ways thanks to the numerous functions of modern mobile devices, the consent request needs to be clear, rather than buried at the end of long paragraphs of legalese.

The ways in which consent for text message marketing are given these days include:

  • Providing a phone number (and confirming it) and checking a box that explains by doing so, the user consents to receive text messages from your practice.
  • Texting a keyword or code to a specific number in response to an advertisement or call-to-action.
  • Physically signing a consent form in person that clearly states the terms of the agreement.

This process is often simply called the opt-in phase of marketing. Opting in provides you an opportunity to explain what you’ll provide in exchange for consent. It’s a chance to emphasize that the person isn’t obligated to make any purchases and can opt out at any time, providing trust and transparency in association with your brand.

Part of any compliant and winning marketing strategy includes keeping an accurate record of your contacts, including whether and when they opted into your text message system. Where many practices slip up is when importing legacy contacts or leads from a different system that they may have obtained consent in the past.

Although these contacts may have provided consent previously, they technically haven’t opted into the new campaign or system that you want them to join. It’s a hassle, but it’s important to re-obtain consent from these contacts to ensure you’re maintaining TCPA compliance.

Create Clear Boundaries and Calls-to-Action

The point of your text message marketing effort is to drive sales or consultations – or both. Doing this means you’ll be sending a lot of calls-to-action in your texts to your contacts. Complying with TCPA guidelines includes letting users know that some (or all) of your texts are automated and are provided with no obligation of purchase.

Beyond this step of compliance, consider the user experience of the opt-in process. Be clear with what they should expect to receive, as well as how often you’ll text them. Are you sending them exclusive offers? Letting them know before others about new services or products? Will you simply be sharing information?

When users receive texts they weren’t expecting from a brand, the loyalty and interest for that provider plummets. Set clear expectations from the start to ensure there aren’t any surprises.

Send Confirmations With Carrier Compliance

Compliance extends to the best practices that carriers (like AT&T and Verizon) put into place. This includes:

  • Your identity and the number that will be messaging them
  • How often they will receive messages
  • Data or message rates may apply
  • Instructions for opting out

Fortunately, people who are interested in services to the point of signing up for automated text campaigns are used to seeing these phrases and confirmation messages, so if they’ve already shared their number, this confirmation often goes unnoticed.

Avoid SHAFT Content

Finally, complying with the CTIA’s (Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association) best practices for text message content ensures you won’t be flagged for harmful content that discusses sex, hate, alcohol, firearms, or tobacco (SHAFT). Discussing or sharing automated content about SHAFT topics can result in a ban on your phone number, forcing you back to square one.

Compliance Matters

This is just the starting point for understanding how to appropriately and legally send automated text campaigns. Although there’s a lot to consider, much of it is easily understood by common sense.

Please Note: This advice is for informational purposes only and is neither intended as nor should be substituted for appropriate legal counsel and/or your company’s compliance team.