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Addressing social determinants of health with HIPAA compliant texts

Addressing social determinants of health with HIPAA compliant texts

Providers can use personalized text messaging to overcome barriers, such as, transportation limitations, inadequate housing, or food insecurity. Texts can also enhance collaborative efforts to reduce disparities in healthcare access.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines social determinants of health (SDOH) as: “The conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.

SDOH can be grouped into 5 domains: 

  • Economic Stability
  • Education Access and Quality
  • Neighborhood and Built Environment
  • Social and Community Context
  • Health Care Access and Quality

These determinants often create disparities in health outcomes, disproportionately affecting marginalized and underserved communities. Limited access to healthcare resources and inadequate health literacy exacerbate the challenge, leading to unequal distribution of healthcare benefits.

Healthcare communication can be used to bridge health disparities and address the impact of social determinants on patient outcomes. More specifically, HIPAA compliant text messaging can help reach underserved populations who may have limited access to traditional forms of communication. It is a secure and convenient way for healthcare providers to potentially improve health outcomes. 


How HIPAA compliant text messaging can address SDOH

Delivering accessible health information

Text messaging provides a direct and accessible way to send health information to patients. Providers can send patients concise yet informative messages about preventive care, disease management, and available healthcare resources. For example, providers can send a short text to low-income patients. The text can offer support and resources by including information on low-cost clinics, financial assistance programs, and transportation options.

Go deeper: How text messaging can help promote accessibility


Personalized patient education

Providers can send personalized texts to patients from different educational backgrounds and health literacy levels, providing clear and culturally appropriate information. These texts can also include multimedia materials, multilingual messages, and visual aids to help different patient populations understand.


Promoting preventive care adherence

Regular text message reminders can encourage patients to schedule preventive screenings, vaccinations, and follow-up appointments.

Providers can address preventive care needs, and more specifically, detect and mitigate health risks before they escalate, ultimately promoting overall well-being.


Supporting medication management

Text messages can remind patients about medication refills, dosage reminders, and adherence tips. For example, if a patient has chronic hypertension, a personalized text can address the patient by name, and emphasize the importance of taking medication to avoid complications.


Connecting patients with support services

Providers can use texts to inform patients about support services like transportation assistance, financial aid programs, and community resources. This promotes access to healthcare, addressing the social determinants that impede patients' ability to seek and receive timely care.


Strategies for using HIPAA compliant text messaging to address SDOH

1. Use a secure texting platform: Providers must use a HIPAA compliant text messaging platforms, like Paubox, equipped with encryption to safeguard patients’ protected health information (PHI).

2. Obtain patient authorization: Providers must first obtain patient authorization for text message communication to comply with HIPAA regulations regarding protected health information. This authorization can be obtained through a signed consent form or through an electronic consent process. 

3. Encourage patient feedback: Providers can solicit feedback, questions, and suggestions for improvement. They should also regularly assess the effectiveness of the texts and adjust content based on patient feedback and their healthcare needs.

4. Collaborate with community partners: Providers can work with local organizations, social services, and stakeholders, healthcare providers to expand the reach of text messaging initiatives. This can offer comprehensive support to patients, taking a holistic approach to addressing patients' SDOH. 

In addition, these collaborations can help health advocates work towards creating systemic changes that reduce disparities in healthcare access.

Read also: Using email and text messaging in health advocacy



What is HIPAA compliant text messaging?

HIPAA compliant text messaging refers to the secure exchange of protected health information (PHI) between healthcare providers and patients using text messaging platforms, like Paubox, that adhere to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations.


Can HIPAA compliant text messaging address food insecurity?

Yes, healthcare providers can use HIPAA compliant texts to connect patients with resources like food banks, nutrition assistance programs, or community meal services, helping to address food insecurity and improve access to nutritious food.


Can HIPAA compliant text messaging be used to promote preventive care and screenings?

Yes, healthcare providers can use HIPAA compliant text messaging to send reminders and information about preventive care measures, screenings, and vaccinations, helping patients stay proactive about their health.

Read also: Using text messages to promote cancer screening



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