We’ve all been there: your phone rings with an unknown number, you pick it up, and an unwanted voice starts selling you health insurance or some other “deal”.

These irritating calls, or sometimes “robocalls,” have made phone users less and less willing to answer calls from unknown numbers, and have led to new legislation that regulates automated phone technology.

A brief history of the regulation of robocalls

In 1991, the Federal Communications Commission passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which restricts the making of telemarketing calls and the use of automatic telephone dialing systems and artificial or prerecorded voice messages. In 2012, following a rise of spam calls, the FCC revised the TCPA, adding requirements for telemarketers to obtain written consent from consumers before robocalling and to add an interactive “opt-out” mechanism during each robocall for consumers.

In 2015, the FCC voted in favor of the protection of landline and mobile phone numbers against unwanted spam text messages and robocalls. This allowed carriers to provide better call-blocking services to subscribers. In the same year, however, the development of SIP Trunking and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)—and the subsequent deregulations—destroyed the integrity of the phone system by bad actors.

While it was previously impossible to get phone numbers unless the carrier was licensed and regulated by the state a carrier operated in, VoIP users could use telephone numbers to contact consumers from anywhere and any country. People received spam calls with automated callouts and recordings, and real-life spammers made calls to try to get financial information. Why would anyone want to answer the phone if they expected phone calls like that?

The FCC and Congress didn’t ignore these problems, though. The TRACED Act, legislation that requires telecom carriers to implement a number-authentication system to help consumers identify who’s calling, was passed in 2019. Part of the act includes implementation of STIR/SHAKEN, a set of protocols intended to fight caller ID spoofing used by robocallers. The system uses digital fingerprints to help determine if the number placing a call is the same as the number showing up on caller ID.

These policies, which telephone service providers must implement into the Internet Protocol portions of their networks by June 2021, will rebuild the integrity of the phone call and caller ID. In fact, all the large carriers implemented the policy in December of 2019!  The FCC expects that STIR/SHAKEN, paired with call analytics, will effectively protect consumers from fraudulent robocall schemes that cost Americans approximately $10 billion annually.

The new regulations also have promising benefits for businesses and healthcare providers. The FCC believes that the new regulations will increase consumer trust in caller ID information, encouraging consumers to answer the phone. Additionally, according to the FCC, widespread implementation of these policies could increase public safety by decreasing disruptions to healthcare and emergency communications systems.

Why does this matter for healthcare today? 

Because people increasingly couldn’t rely on phone calls to come from a trusted source, they wouldn’t answer the phone. Banks couldn’t call clients anymore because consumers couldn’t trust the caller ID, and when legitimate businesses asked for information like a user’s account number, customers would have to hang up and call back to make sure they were talking to an authorized representative from the business.

New regulations could not only improve business, but also save lives because patients can receive more proactive, preventative care from their healthcare provider.

Implementing a number-authentication system, like STIR/SHAKEN, allows outbound calling to become another touchpoint for physician practices. Patients can confidently answer a phone call from their provider’s practice with accurate caller ID, and will be more likely to pick up the phone. This opens up the possibility of using a virtual assistant like Transform9 to perform automated, proactive appointment scheduling for regular visits, screenings and follow-ups. Additionally, it creates an opportunity for patient education, as a virtual assistant can ask the patient if they’ve had certain symptoms. For example, an Orthopedic practice can post operatively call patients checking on their shoulder surgery.

A telephone-based virtual assistant could transform your physician practice in 2020. Learn more.

Alan L. Creighton

Author Alan L. Creighton

Alan is the Founder & CEO of Transform9, currently building the first specialty-specific, automated, conversational voicebot virtual assistant for physician practices that lets patients communicate how and when they want.

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