The Telephone Consumer Protection Act codified at 47 U.S.C. § 227 (“TCPA”) restricts the use of automatic telephone dialing systems, artificial or prerecorded voice messages, SMS text messages, and the sending of facsimiles both for telemarketing and informational calls.
With regard to calls made by health care providers, in a previous Declaratory Ruling and Order issued on July 10, 2015, the FCC excepted calls made by health care providers via artificial/prerecorded voice and text messages to cellphones without the consumers’ prior express consent, to provide important “health care” messages as defined and covered by the HIPAA Privacy Rule under 45 CFR § 160.103. These exceptions include health care messages relating to:
- Appointments and exams;
- Confirmations and reminders;
- Wellness checkups;
- Hospital pre-registration instructions;
- Pre-operative instructions;
- Lab results;
- Post-discharge follow-up intended to prevent readmission;
- Prescription notifications; and
- Home health care instructions.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the FCC issued a declaratory ruling lifting the prior express consent requirement for calls made to patients specifically related to COVID-19.
The ruling states, “On our own motion, we confirm that certain callers may lawfully make automated calls and send automated text messages to wireless telephone numbers when such calls are necessary to protect the health and safety of citizens pursuant to the TCPA’s ‘emergency purposes”’exception.”
The FCC acknowledges that the current COVID-19 pandemic constitutes an imminent health risk to the public, which satisfies the regulations governing emergency calls.
The following callers and types of calls are now expressly included in the exception for emergency purposes:
· The identity of the caller must be a hospital, health care provider, state or local health official or other government official, or a person acting under the direction of such an organization and acting on its behalf and
· The content of the call must be solely informational, made necessary because of the COVID-19 outbreak, and directly related to the imminent health or safety risk arising out of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Calls not covered by this ruling include calls made for telemarketing purposes or to collect a debt (even if the debt is related to COVID-19). These types of calls still require the prior express consent of the called party.