Increased Mobile Device Usage
Necessitates Updates to TCPA

By Jeff Gorski, PFS Group

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) enforces restrictions on the use of automated telephone dialing equipment, “auto dialers,” and prerecorded messages to make non-emergency calls to wireless phone numbers, without the prior express consent of the called party. Enacted in 1991 to amend the Communications Act of 1934, the TCPA aims to protect consumers from unwanted telemarketing calls.

Needless to say, consumers should be shielded from such unsolicited calls. However, with the advent of wireless communication technology, the 21-year-old law has become outdated and should be revisited and amended to reflect the shift in consumer’s communication habits.

With a third of U.S. households relying solely on cell phones, those in the healthcare industry must be able to contact consumers on phone numbers they willingly provide as primary or secondary points of contact — whether a home or mobile number — and by means including but not limited to auto dialers and prerecorded messages. Currently, healthcare-related companies can manually call a patient’s cell phones (as long as the patient provides the number and identifies it as a cell phone), but not through means of a dialing technology such as auto dialers or prerecorded messages.

Many healthcare-related businesses use auto dialers, prerecorded messages and other technologies to help them efficiently contact their patients. Thus, the TCPA needs to be revised to acknowledge a consumer’s right to receive phone calls from auto dialers and prerecorded messages made to his or her cell phone by a party with whom the consumer has an established relationship, provided that the number is given as a point of contact by the consumer.

H.R. 3035, the Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011, looks to resolve this issue. The bill would “amend the Communications Act of 1934 to permit informational calls to wireless telephone numbers, and for other purposes.” Specifically, it revises the categories of calls in which people are prohibited from using an auto dialer or prerecorded message. It also clarifies “prior express consent” as “the oral or written approval of a person,” so that parties that have an established business relationship with that person would be allowed to initiate a phone call. To meet this guideline, healthcare providers should look to incorporate a cell phone acknowledgement statement on their admission waivers for patients to sign.

As it stands now, the TCPA results in unwarranted costs and inconveniences on businesses, their clients and their patients. Without a healthcare-related company’s ability to contact patients’ mobile phones and relay essential information quickly and efficiently, patients pay the price of greater uncollectable balances, which in the long run contributes to increased costs of healthcare services. Therefore, it is the healthcare industry’s responsibility to advocate for the ability to communicate with patients via a mean that is convenient for both businesses and the patients, so that they can work together to resolve their accounts with the highest level of customer service possible.