HIPAA compliant text messaging

A Guide to HIPAA Compliant Text Messaging

Table of Contents

The key responsibility of healthcare providers lies in providing timely care to patients through available channels. The advancements in technology have made it easier to connect and communicate with patients through text messaging. Healthcare communications differ from regular communications in many ways. It involves the exchange of sensitive patient information. This data and personal information are susceptible to interceptions. HIPAA compliant texting thus becomes necessary to protect patient information from security breaches.  

Sending out text messages is a common practice among healthcare providers. It enables continuous connectivity and engagement between healthcare providers and their patients. As simple as text messaging sounds, failure to comply with HIPAA guidelines might cost a hefty fine of $10,000 to the organizations.  

Healthcare employers are required to provide security awareness training to their employees. The risk of non-compliance is much bigger when the employees aren’t provided the necessary training. A survey suggests that 24% of healthcare employees don’t receive security awareness training from their employers. Providing proper guidelines to the employees also becomes a major responsibility while entering the ecosystem. 

Now, as we talk about text messaging, a quick question pops into our head – Can we have HIPAA compliant text messages? This is quite possible with the right knowledge and information. It is important to secure and encrypt the messaging platforms used and ensure that the platform is HIPAA compliant. Many commonly used messaging channels and platforms are non-compliant. For example, messaging apps such as Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, and iMessage lack the necessary compliance and should be avoided for patient communication and engagement. 

Paying fines for non-compliance is a huge loss of money and reputation. But there are certain simple practices to secure your communications. Here’s how you can make a safer choice and continue engaging with your patients on text messages. Let us first understand how HIPAA compliance works for text messaging.  

What does HIPAA compliance say about text messaging?

The US Department of Health and Human Services created a set of guidelines to protect the patients by securing their personal information. All healthcare organizations comply with these guidelines for patient data security and privacy. HIPAA compliance is a complex and vague law and it does not specify guidelines for text messaging directly. Instead, there are certain guidelines for data security and privacy across multiple communication channels. 

Text messaging presents unique risks to the security and privacy of patients’ information. Healthcare providers must ensure that their healthcare management systems meet the security and privacy guidelines to avoid such risks.  

HIPAA Security Rule & Guidelines

HIPAA Security Rule is a part of HIPAA that specifically takes care of electronically protected health information (ePHI) and implements administration for safeguarding confidential information. The entire goal of HIPAA is to protect patients’ health information and as mentioned earlier, texting poses risks and threats to this goal. If all the parties are made aware of the risks and the platforms abide by the compliance, texting can be leveraged for quick patient communication.  

List of protected health information

Sending HIPAA Compliant Text Messaging 

You can send HIPAA compliant text messages right off the bat using HIPAA compliant applications. According to HIPAA guidelines, messaging applications need to offer access controls, authority controls, and the ability to issue business associate agreements (BAA). Messaging platforms like iMessage and Whatsapp miss the mark on the shields to protect ePHI (electronically protected healthcare information). 

HIPAA compliant texting can be conveniently practiced through the following steps:

  • Get Patient’s Consent

Before you start engaging with your patients through text messages, you must have the patient’s consent. Take a prior written consent and maintain documentation of all the permissions from the patient. 

For instance, if you wish to gather feedback from your patient or send out a survey to them, let them have the option to opt-in or opt-out of such communications. Also for future communications, the patient needs to be onboard for information sharing through compliant texting platforms. 

  • Using Access Control

While sending HIPAA compliant text messages, you must warn your patients about the risks of unauthorized disclosure of Protected Health Information (PHI). The patients must know and understand that someone other than the healthcare provider might access the data for communication or other purposes. For instance, texting can take place with nurses or administration employees, and such instances should be disclosed to the patient in advance. 

On another note, being a responsible healthcare provider, you must also implement access control to limit access exclusively to the authorized users. HIPAA security rule requires the following access control provisions – 

  • Exclusive User IDs 

The professionals accessing a system with PHI should have unique user IDs with their individual names or numbers. All the platforms including text messaging platforms should be accessed through these unique user IDs to avoid information misuse and data breaches. This ensures HIPAA compliant text messaging. 

  • Encrypted Messaging

The text messaging must have end-to-end encryption to protect PHI and prevent unauthorized access, especially in case of loss of the device. 

  • Auto Log-Off

Platforms working with PHI must have an auto log-off option post inactivity of the user for a particular time duration. This ensures the security of the information and avoids unauthorized data tampering.

  • SOP for Emergencies

As a healthcare provider, you might need to access PHI in case of emergency. It is therefore important to set up a process to tackle the emergency situations and also give authorization to selected users for accessing the information.

  • Auditing Controls

Monitoring user activities is quite necessary to keep a track of the people accessing patient information. Auditing control helps in monitoring unauthorized access to PHI. The mainstream platforms do not promote tracking access. However, using HIPAA compliant text messaging platform comes with the functionality of monitoring access. 

  • Using Authentication Procedures

Patients’ confidential information should always stay in the right hands. To ensure this, implement a multi-factor authentication (MFA) procedure for sending text messages containing PHI. MFA provides another layer of security and keeps the information safe. 

  • Limiting Information Sharing 

Texting is one of the easiest and most convenient modes of communication for healthcare providers. The responsibility of protecting patient information also falls on the shoulders of these healthcare providers. By limiting information sharing on texts, you can reduce the risk of PHI falling into the wrong hands. Texting messages for the following purposes pose no risks –  

  • Appointment booking 
  • Appointment reminders
  • Registration guidelines
  • Test result notification
  • Routine healthcare guidelines
  • Pre and post-operation directives
  • Keeping a Track 

HIPAA audit requires the systems to provide timely evidence and record of PHI-sharing activities. HIPAA compliant text platforms automatically document user management along with authentications and messaging information. Make use of a secure texting platform which can keep a record of all the messages for future audits. 

  • Signing BAA (Business Associate Agreement) 

The third-party vendors working with your healthcare organization may get access to PHI. These third-party vendors are also known as business associates. It is important to sign a Business Associate Agreement with these vendors to ensure HIPAA compliant practices in their daily operations.

  • Data Deletion

In today’s times, mobile phones have easy access to all the information on the device, including PHI. However, smartphones and other devices are also at a high risk of getting stolen and lost. This can put HIPAA compliance at risk. In such scenarios, remotely deleting PHI from the lost device eliminates the chances of unauthorized access. Ensure that you can perform the action of data deletion remotely and safeguard patient information. 

Who should follow HIPAA Compliant Texting?

HIPAA privacy rules are applicable to covered entities such as healthcare insurance companies and health maintenance organizations. Doctors, physicians, therapists, clinics, and hospitals that conduct business operations electronically should comply with HIPAA. Last but not the least, entities that are involved in processing health information also need to abide by the rules under HIPAA.  

How to choose a Secure Texting Application?

After understanding how compliance makes a huge difference in the healthcare industry, it is vital to assess the right application for your organization. By now, we do know that the application should be compliant but other than that, there are some key features to be considered too. 

HIPAA key features

Here’s a list of features that might help you in making the right choice:

  • Healthcare providers should be able to communicate from multiple devices and should receive real-time encrypted data.
  • In order to log delivery access, the application should provide enterprise web access.
  • The information should be manageable through app features. 
  • In case of loss of device, the application should facilitate remote data deletion.
  • The administrators should be able to grant authorizations to different users through central dashboards and also revoke access if needed.
  • The application should be able to provide visibility to the user’s availability.
  • The application should track and keep a record of all the activities to enable hassle-free auditing in the future.

These features not just guarantee the protection of PHI, but also enhance overall productivity and help healthcare providers to focus on patient care. Choosing the right application benefits the organization and raises the standards of healthcare. It makes patient journeys seamless and improves their experience with the healthcare provider. 

Conclusion

Doctor-patient bond is built on the foundation of trust. If your application is secure, it will further enhance your relationship with your patients. Today, many hospitals and healthcare organizations use texting as a mode of communication. Text messaging when used the right way, can do wonders in boosting patient engagement. While you continue offering the best patient experience, make sure that the application/platform you choose is HIPAA compliant. A secure platform will also make your patients feel secure with you. Are you looking for a platform that can provide you HIPAA compliant text messaging? Connect with us to secure and enhance your patient experience!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *