FCC: Dentists must get consent to make billing calls

Dental practices now must obtain authorization from a patient to call him or her on his or her cellphone to discuss account and insurance information, according to a recent ruling. A July 10 order by the Federal Communications Commission, interpreting a rule it promulgated in 2013, is cause for CDA to advise dental practices to ensure their policies and procedures for communications using patients' cellphone numbers is in compliance with the law.

The FCC issued its recent order under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA). The FCC's order addressed several issues and includes an exemption for health care treatment communications. TCPA rules require a business to obtain an individual's consent prior to calling or sending a text to an individual's cellphone number. The health care exemption applies if the communication:

  • Is sent only to the cellphone number provided by the patient to the health care provider;
  • States the name and contact information of the health care provider (information must be at the beginning of a voice call);
  • Does not include telemarketing, solicitation, advertising, billing or financial content (including insurance information requests);
  • Complies with the HIPAA Privacy Rule; and
  • Is short (one minute or less for voice calls and 160 characters or less for text messages).

A health care provider must:

  • Limit communication to one per day and three per week for each individual;
  • Provide individuals with a simple method to opt out of receiving communications; and
  • Immediately honor the opt-out requests.

CDA recommends dental practices take the following steps:

  • Review procedures to determine if the practice uses patient cellphone numbers for communications related to dental benefits, financial arrangements or marketing/solicitation. Review patient forms to determine if required consents, obtained after Oct. 16, 2013 (effective date of original rule), are included. Update forms as needed.
  • Ensure that the practice's HIPAA business associates who communicate on behalf of the practice are in compliance with TCPA rules.

Below is language CDA recommends dental practices use to obtain consent for communications using a cell phone number. It can be added to patient intake forms (it does not need to be on a separate form). 

Cell Phone:

I consent to the dental practice using my cell phone number to (choose one or both) call or text regarding appointments and to call regarding treatment, insurance, and my account.  I understand that I can withdraw my consent at any time. My cell phone number is (include area code) __________________________________     _______(initial)

Other federal and state rules govern telemarketing and commercial email messages. A summary of these laws is available on the website of the Office of the Attorney General at oag.ca.gov/privacy/privacy-laws.

Related Items

CDA provides a guide to its members that is intended for use by dentists and allied dental health professionals to assist them in complying with the California Dental Practice Act. Some of changes in the 2015 edition of Your Guide to California Dental Practice Act Compliance are listed in this story.