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Using HIPAA compliant texts to increase physical activity

Using HIPAA compliant texts to increase physical activity

Providers can use HIPAA compliant texts to actively engage and motivate patients to enhance their physical activity routines, which could lead to better lifestyle changes and improved health outcomes.

The HHS Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans reports about half of all American adults—117 million people—have one or more preventable chronic diseases.

Seven of the ten most common chronic diseases are favorably influenced by regular physical activity. Yet nearly 80% of adults are not meeting the key guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity, while only about half meet the key guidelines for aerobic physical activity. This lack of physical activity is linked to approximately $117 billion in annual health care costs and about 10% of premature mortality.”


Text message-based interventions

systematic review on physical activity text messaging interventions in adults states “Text messaging, is emerging internationally as a method to communicate with and motivate individuals to engage in healthy behaviors, including physical activity.”

These interventions have shown promising results in increasing physical activity levels and promoting behavior change. Providers can use texts to deliver motivational messages and reminders to encourage individuals to positively change their routines. 

More specifically, a study on text messaging interventions for improvement in physical activity suggests the following approaches to increase physical activity in youth:

  • Specific focus on the desired behavior
  • Include self-monitoring, goal setting, and feedback components
  • Send three or more [texts] per week


HIPAA compliant text messaging

The HIPAA Security Rule sets standards for protecting electronic protected health information (ePHI) to protect patient data from unauthorized access.

Text messaging in healthcare settings often involves sharing sensitive information, so it must adhere to the Security Rule. Providers must use encrypted messaging platforms, like Paubox, that adhere to HIPAA standards to prevent data breaches. This means regular risk assessments, secure data transmission methods, and controlled access to ePHI are essential components of any compliant text messaging system.

Furthermore, healthcare providers must educate their staff on HIPAA compliance. These protocols help protect both patient information and the healthcare provider from potential legal and financial penalties.

Go deeper: HIPAA's Security Rule and text messaging


Strategies for implementing HIPAA compliant texts

Obtain patient consent: Providers must ensure patients sign a consent form explicitly stating their willingness to receive exercise-related texts before implementing the intervention.

General exercise reminders: Providers can send general exercise reminders to all patients, like: "Remember to get moving today! Regular physical activity boosts mood and energy levels. Have a great workout!"

Personalized exercise plans: Providers can assess a patient's health status and exercise preferences during a consultation, and then create a personalized exercise plan. An example text could be: "Hi [Patient’s name], based on our discussion, here's a personalized exercise plan for you: 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week. Let's track your progress together!"

Encouragement and motivation: Providers can send motivational messages to patients to keep them motivated. For instance: "You're doing great, [Patient’s name]! Keep up the fantastic work with your exercise routine. Every step counts towards a healthier you!"

Educational content: The provider can share informative articles on the benefits of exercise, along with a summary.

Appointment reminders: In addition to regular exercise reminders, providers can also include exercise-related appointment reminders. For example: "Don't forget your upcoming physical therapy session on Friday at 2 PM. Let's work together to achieve your exercise goals!"

Interactive engagement: Providers can encourage patients to respond to texts with questions or concernsby sending a simple: "Have any questions about your exercise plan, [Patient’s name]? Feel free to reply to this message, and I'll get back to you as soon as possible."

Regular review and updates: Providers must reviews their text messaging practices to ensure HIPAA compliance and regularly update their protocols to maintain patient privacy.



Can regular texts be used for communicating electronic PHI?

No, regular texts are not secure and do not comply with HIPAA's encryption requirements for electronic PHI. Instead, providers should use a secure text messaging platform, like Paubox, to send HIPAA compliant texts.


What is the HIPAA Security Rule?

The HIPAA security rule sets guidelines for healthcare providers and organizations to protect electronic PHI. It comprises three categories of safeguards: administrative, technical, and physical to prevent unauthorized access.

Read also: The HIPAA security rule and physical access controls


How frequently should risk assessments be conducted?

While HIPAA does not specify a specific frequency for conducting risk analyses, providers must conduct a comprehensive risk analysis at least once a year.

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