As a parent of young children, you’ll know this command well – “Your hands are dirty, go scrub them”. Be it mud or marker, a child regularly comes to the dinner table with dirty hands. Well, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued its first command to go and scrub! They are asking all that use automated dialing equipment (appointment reminders, collection calls, and marketing calls) to go scrub your phone numbers to their Reassigned Number Database (RND).
According to YouMail, in 2018, an estimated 48 billion robocalls were placed to cell phones. This is up 60% from 2017. The jump has placed more attention on all phone calls to cell phones, even legitimate calls from your organization.
The FCC is trying to tackle this problem issue by issue and one of those issues is reassigned phone numbers. According to the FCC, approximately 35 million telephone numbers are disconnected and aged each year. Along with this, wireless carriers reassign approximately 100,000 numbers every day and normally after only 90 days.
How does this apply to hospitals? When the owner of the wireless number changes, so does the permission tied to the number according to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). A short recap on TCPA: If a patient gives you a phone number, you can use an auto-dialer to call or text it for medical purposes. If for collections or marketing purposes, we highly recommend having language in your admission contracts to achieve the “express permission” required by the law. But having permission or having been provided a phone number by the patient does NOT protect you when the phone number now belongs to a new party; this is called phone number reassignment. The new owner of that wireless number has NOT given you permission. This is where TCPA liability can stack up big at $500 per phone attempt by automated telephone dialing systems (ATDS) regardless if it is for medical, collection, or marketing purposes.
In 2015, FCC attempted a solution of “one chance” to dial a reassigned number. The FCC stated that “callers who make calls without knowledge of reassignment and with a reasonable basis to believe that they have valid consent to make the call should be able to initiate one call after reassignment as an additional opportunity to gain actual or constructive knowledge of the reassignment and cease future calls to the new subscriber.” In 2018, this “one chance” was removed as part of litigation against changes to the TCPA by the FCC. The problem with a “one call” safe harbor is that a majority of “informational” phone calls are done with prerecorded messages. These prerecorded messages aren’t able to determine if they are calling the right party. This was great news for all that make phone attempts to consumers.
The second solution is that the FCC will create a reassigned number database (RND). All companies will need to search this database before making an attempt. The wireless numbers are to be checked along with the last date the caller verified the number belonged to the patient. For example, a provider would send phone number 920-682-1234|09-13-2018 where the date of service was 9-13-2018. You will receive back one of three options:
- No – the phone number has not been reassigned since 9-13-2018
- Yes – it has been reassigned since 9-13-2018, you will want to stop dialing/texting
- No data – the phone number is not in the database
The FCC also added a safe harbor for callers using the new database. This safe harbor provides protection from TCPA liability when “database errors” lead to an incorrect call to a consumer. This means the scrub needs to be stored.
Sounds simple right? Well it is not, because Americollect has been performing this scrub for several years. In most Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems, there are locations for multiple phone numbers; work, home, or cell. Few systems, if any, have a logging date of when that phone number was last “verified.” Americollect and our software provider, Roydan, have been working on this issue for a few years and we have this built into our solution. It is called “Contact Tracker”. With it, we log every time we “verify” the phone number, the source of where we received the number, if it is a cell phone, and other self-defined types of phone attributes. We also have the ability to know who the subscriber of the phone number is, and we monitor the subscriber ownership before we dial it. We stop dialing phone numbers when they have been reassigned to a new subscriber. So, the very proposal the FCC has put forth is something we have been doing for four years.
The difference is that the reassigned number database will probably be more accurate than our source of subscriber ownership. We view this reassigned number database as an additional tool to improve our current process.
What can hospitals do to help?
First, build a field in your EHR system to log the verified number and date per phone field. With this you will need to define:
- Did your staff actually talk to them at that number?
- Was it the last date of service?
- Was it a face-to-face admission?
Once you have that date, then share with your vendors who help you make phone calls and texts. We realize this may not be a priority for you to create new fields in the placement or update files, but it will save us both a lawsuit!
So, go scrub! It will be good for all who are tired of robocalls!
If you would like to know more about the TCPA and reassigned number database, please reach out to Kenlyn Gretz at Kenlyn@americollect.com.