As of October 16, 2013, the Federal Communications Commission began enforcing the federal Telephone Communication Protection Act (TCPA). The purpose of the TCPA is to protect consumers from the nuisance of receiving unsolicited robocalls to their home and cellular telephones. With the exception of an emergency, or unless the consumer grants prior express consent, autodialed phone calls and artificial or prerecorded voice messages sent to residence or mobile phones for marketing property, goods or services is prohibited.
The TCPA can affect practices that use patient communication services for appointment reminders or other health care-related calls. Since these are often autodialed and prerecorded, they fall under the TCPA rules. Fortunately, the FCC has an exemption for prerecorded health care-related calls; however, this exemption applies only to calls toresidential phone lines. Prior to sending an autodialed or pre-recorded call to a patient's cell phone, the TCPA requires that a practice obtain "prior express consent." This includes sending voice calls, text messages or any communication for which the consumer may be charged.
Although the TCPA rules do not specify written "prior express consent," practices that use these types of patient communication services should maintain documentation of prior patient permission. In circumstances where oral consent is given, a notation should be included in the chart that the patient permits such calls to his/her cell phone.
Practices could be found in violation of the TCPA if they do not obtain the required prior express consent from patients. If a State attorney general receives enough patient complaints, a civil suit might be filed against the practice resulting in thousands of dollars in fines and penalties. In addition to the state, the FCC could also impose fines for violating the TCPA.
While automated patient communication may be convenient, practices must follow the guidelines of the federal Telephone Communication Protection Act if they are to avoid potential fines and penalties that may result from even inadvertent violations.