“To Opt-in or Not? That is the Question!”

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As federal requirements for patient education take effect this year, many hospitals that already communicate digitally with patients don’t realize that they can also enroll those patients in educational emails—without getting separate permission to do so. UbiCare has released a white paper on this topic on its website and will host a webinar on this topic on Feb. 26 and March 18.

As federal requirements for patient education take effect this year, many hospitals that already communicate digitally with patients don’t realize that they can also enroll those patients in educational emails—without getting separate permission to do so.

UbiCare has released a white paper on this topic on its website and will host a webinar on this topic on Feb. 26 and March 18.

Concerned about patient privacy, these providers have taken a cautious, opt-in approach, requiring patients to sign up for health education emails related to their care. But opt-in is both unnecessary and unproductive. Switching to an opt-out policy, in which emails are sent automatically and patients must unsubscribe if they don’t want them, is both HIPAA-compliant and approved by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).

HHS was fielding questions about how to connect electronically with patients as early as 2008. The agency has stated that “The Privacy Rule allows covered healthcare providers to communicate electronically, such as through email, with their patients, provided they apply reasonable safeguards when doing so. See 45 C.F.R. § 164.530(c).”

Furthermore, HHS notes, “Patients may initiate communications with a provider using email. If this situation occurs, the healthcare provider can assume (unless the patient has explicitly stated otherwise) that email communications are acceptable to the individual.”

HHS is careful to say that hospitals have a responsibility to ensure that patients understand the potential risks: “If the provider feels the patient may not be aware of the possible risks of using unencrypted email, or has concerns about potential liability, the provider can alert the patient of those risks, and let the patient decide whether to continue email communications.”

As of this year, Measure 10 of CMS’s 16 Core Measures that comprise Meaningful Use Stage 2 requires hospitals to “use relevant information from their certified EHR technology to identify patient-specific education resources and provide those resources to the patients.”

To meet that requirement, it’s good to know that not only are emails OK, but no consent is needed to send patients educational resources by email.

Most young adults are “impatient with what they believe are archaic uses of the Internet,” UbiCare CEO Betsy Weaver and PKH Enterprises CEO Patricia Hammar note in a new, co-authored white paper, American Healthcare is Digital. HIPAA Opt-in or Opt-out: What You Need to Know About Enrollment.

But it’s not just millennials who are frustrated. “U.S. healthcare consumers have less and less patience for digital backwardness,” they write.

An opt-out policy has huge benefits for hospitals. It addresses the need to efficiently educate patients about their health—ultimately reducing the cost of patient care while increasing patient satisfaction.

Making opt-out the standard is no longer a “yes” or “no” question. It’s how you do it, not if you can do it.

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This article is based on a white paper that originally appeared on UbiCare’s website at http://www.ubicare.com/resources/white-papers-articles. Register for a webinar on this topic on Feb. 26 or March 18.

About UbiCare
UbiCare is a leader in patient engagement, extending high-quality care through technology. UbiCare’s patient engagement solutions are customizable in real-time, delivering the right information at the right time to create and sustain effective patient/provider relationships that have been shown to improve outcomes, while saving hospital staff time and reducing cost. UbiCare is GSA approved, Small Business Certified, Women’s Business Enterprise Certified (WBENC) and Women-Owned Small Business Certified (WOSB) with a Dun & Bradstreet customer-service rating of 93%.

About PKH Enterprises
PKH Enterprises is a Maryland-based policy and technology consulting firm helping clients address their most challenging business problems and performance needs. Team members are business process engineers, senior subject matter experts and certified project managers serving as trusted client advisors. PKH guidance gets results and influences clients’ policy, implementation and products. PKH is a small, woman-owned business.

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