HIPAA Compliant Messaging: Everything You Need To Know
The minimum fine for violating the HIPAA regulations for text messages is $10,000 for willful neglect of regulations – even if the organization corrects the problem.
Can your practice afford the fines for non-compliance?
Sending a message from one mobile device to another mobile device has become so common people do not think of the security risks. Indeed, a survey found that 24% of healthcare professionals received no security training from their employer.
This article will give you three things:
- A clear understanding of HIPAA Compliant text Messaging
- Two compelling reasons to use secure messaging
- One comprehensive communication platform for your organization
Let’s get started by covering the basics of HIPAA compliance for text messaging.
The Two Main Parts of HIPAA Compliance: Security and Privacy
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) created a national set of guidelines to protect patients. Healthcare organizations in the USA must comply with these regulations in all matters concerning patient data.
For this article, we will only focus on text messages. The HIPAA guidelines do not specify what a secure text messaging platform is, or what makes a HIPAA compliant text app. Instead, they provide guidelines for patient data security and privacy across all forms of communication.
Instead, healthcare providers must understand the security and privacy guidelines and then ensure their healthcare messaging systems meet these requirements.
To help you, let’s review the major parts of the security and privacy rules.
HIPAA Guidelines for Security
The US Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) states the purpose of the security rule very clearly on their website:
The HIPAA Security Rule establishes national standards to protect individuals’ electronic personal health information that is created, received, used, or maintained by a covered entity. The Security Rule requires appropriate administrative, physical and technical safeguards to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and security of electronic protected health information.
The entirety of the security rule is too long to discuss here. Instead, we want to focus on the sections that are truly important to your business.
So, here are the four key things every healthcare provider and professional must do to be HIPAA compliant with their text messages:
- Ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all e-PHI they create, receive, maintain or transmit.
- Identify and protect against reasonably anticipated threats to the security or integrity of the information.
- Protect against reasonably anticipated, impermissible uses or disclosures.
- Ensure compliance by their workforce.
HIPAA compliant messaging for you and your organization means you must be able to send secure messages, protect against threats to security, prevent unauthorized access, and ensure all members of your workforce use secure messaging procedures.
Privacy Requirements to Be HIPAA Compliant
The Privacy Rule is equally important, but has slightly less relevance to HIPAA compliant chat apps and messaging apps. Here is how the HHS describes the purpose of the privacy rule:
A major goal of the Privacy Rule is to assure that individuals’ health information is properly protected while allowing the flow of health information needed to provide and promote high quality health care and to protect the public’s health and well being. The Rule strikes a balance that permits important uses of information, while protecting the privacy of people who seek care and healing.
The focus is on the decision to share patient information rather than on the security of the platform used to communicate. However, there is one specific clause that relates to messaging apps:
For internal uses, a covered entity must develop and implement policies and procedures that restrict access and uses of protected health information based on the specific roles of the members of their workforce.
Any app or platform used for secure messaging must give your organization the ability to set user access permissions for sending, receiving, and viewing messages so that unauthorized disclosure of patient information does not occur.
Most Consumer Messaging Apps are NOT Acceptable for Protected Health Information
Most text messaging apps and chat apps are not HIPAA compliant because they do not provide the functions needed to secure and control patient information.
Covered entities, healthcare providers and their business associates, must ensure their communications have the required security measures to protect sensitive data.
Here are some examples of consumer-grade apps and why they fail to achieve HIPAA compliance:
- Zoom is a popular video conferencing app. While video is a great communication tool with many healthcare applications, Zoom was not built for HIPAA compliance. Video calls do not have end-to-end encryption and access to the tools needed to make Zoom HIPAA compliant begins at $2,500 per year.
- WhatsApp is not HIPAA compliant, either. It is the 3rd most popular messaging solution in the US for consumers, but lacks the security features to control access to patient information.
- Facebook Messenger is the most popular messaging solution for individuals. However, it is not HIPAA compliant because it contains no security features for access control, message history, and could allow unauthorized persons to access PHI.
So, consumer apps fail because they don’t provide security on a specific device, allow messages to be sent to the wrong person, and do not provide a system for authorized users and access level permissions.
What is HIPAA compliant messaging?
There are two ways to be HIPAA compliant with your messaging. The first is to use a secure messaging solution built for healthcare providers. The second is to put training and systems in place to ensure every person in your practice follows the HIPAA guidelines to send secure text messages.
Obviously, the first option is far easier than the second. Let’s talk about why you should choose the first option.
Secure Messaging that Meets the Security and Privacy Rules for Medical Professionals
When you choose a secure messaging solution, the tools you need for HIPAA should be in place. Here are the basic requirements:
- Secure text messaging based on encryption of data while it is being stored and being sent.
- Protection of patient information by restricting access to only the intended recipient and authorized users.
- Prevention of unauthorized access by deploying secure data storage measures.
- Availability of records of sent messages and historic chats for auditing and compliance.
A healthcare messaging platform should do these things for you as a basic level of functionality. Anything less is unlikely to be compliant with the HIPAA guidelines.
Text Messages that do NOT Contain Patient Data and Avoid the Need for Security and Privacy
It is possible to send text messages that meet the HIPAA requirements without using a secure messaging app. Organizations can do this by simply removing the information about the patient and/or treatment from the message.
For example, here is how you can send messages that achieve HIPAA intent:
- Send appointment reminders that only contain generic information, such as “This message is being sent to remind you of your appointment today at 11:30. If you cannot make your appointment, please call the office to reschedule.”
- Obtain written permission from your patient to send and receive messages about their care. Even with this permission, someone should still remove identifiable health information from most messages because it may not be possible to verify the identity of the person using the messaging app.
So, meeting the HIPAA requirements for sending text messages may be possible without a dedicated solution, but it is restrictive and risky to rely on this method for many forms of communication.
Are there good reasons for using some form of secure messaging platform?
Why Should Healthcare Organizations Use HIPAA Compliant Text Messaging?
To put it simply, avoiding the issue will not work. Healthcare professionals are already using text messaging apps to talk to each other and to their patients. The challenge facing healthcare providers is to ensure their staff members are using secure texting instead of a less secure alternative.
Even though it is a necessity, there are excellent reasons to use the abilities of text messaging to deliver better care and improve your workplace.
Receiving Messages Leads to Better Patient Care
Which outcomes would be best for your patients? How can text messaging help deliver them?
Here are a few statistics from relevant studies reviewing the use of SMS and messaging to improve patient care:
- 77% of providers reported improved outcomes when using text messages to patients.
- Adherence to medication or treatment improved in 40% of cases.
- Attendance rates improved by 18% when reminder messages were sent.
Another study focused on examining the effect of SMS use on patient outcomes. The published results included the following findings:
- Appointment reminders sent by text were an effective way of improving attendance.
- Text interventions dramatically improved patient outcomes for smoking cessation and weight loss.
- SMS tailoring, personalization, and decreasing message frequency were all associated with increased effectiveness.
Clearly, enabling communication between physicians and their patients results in better outcomes.
How does it serve the healthcare provider?
Healthcare Providers Can Streamline Workflows
A well-designed secure messaging platform enables your practice to serve its patients and its staff members much more effectively.
Let’s take a look at three ways a properly designed messaging system serves your colleagues.
Accurate connection to on-call providers
Text messaging has become a part of modern life. It’s fast, convenient, and super portable for medical professionals on the move. A secure messaging platform can connect all your colleagues through their mobile devices.
How could your organization benefit?
- Instant post- or pre-medical check-ins
- Room or resource scheduling alerts and confirmations
- Emergency updates to manage fast-moving medical situations
A secure HIPAA compliant text messaging system can help you keep everyone connected and working efficiently to deliver the best outcomes for your patients.
Work-life balance for medical providers
Individually controlled chat apps do not allow your staff members to switch off easily. The phone calls might never stop – even on their days off. Group chat, left unmonitored, can intrude on family life.
An important feature of a proper messaging service is the ability to create groups and manage message priority settings. Once the groups are set up and priority given to on-call staff, the people who are trying to enjoy their downtime can be designated. The system gives you ways of avoiding interruptions to their personal time.
Data sync across practices
A secure messaging system will sync information about patients and staff members across all your practice locations. Here are ways this could help you achieve better service:
- Chats with patients can be recorded and archived so each practice gains awareness of patient contacts.
- Meeting schedules and reminders can be automated to improve attendance even when staff are at different locations.
- Need to fill a vacant shift quickly? A good messaging system allows you to send a priority message to all the possibilities in seconds.
Data sync helps avoid phone tag, missed appointments, or extra effort. Everyone can receive the right information at the right time, in the right place.
What is a HIPAA compliant messaging app?
Basically, HIPAA compliant apps and software must meet the security and privacy requirements automatically and by default. It’s possible for healthcare organizations to create internal regulations and be compliant with HIPAA regulations manually, but this is a lot of effort and vastly increases the risk of a mistake.
A HIPAA compliant texting app will make security and privacy much easier by providing automated controls.
Here are the three main ways HIPAA compliant texting apps meet the requirements.
Provides Secure Messaging for Mobile Devices Automatically
A HIPAA compliant platform sends and receives messages securely. The platform verifies sender and recipient identities and the data is encrypted before, during, and after sending.
Stores Electronic Protected Health Information Securely
Data storage is a big vulnerability for many systems. Where do you store your data? If it is stored somewhere off your premises, out of your control, how can you guarantee its security?
A secure messaging platform will store your data securely, preferably on your own premises.
HIPAA Compliant Applications Help Maintain Compliance
Now, organizations must go beyond the individual sender or message. According to HIPAA requirements, every healthcare practice must ensure compliance by providing the right system, training for staff, and through ongoing risk assessment.
Messagenius: More Than Just a HIPAA Compliant Messaging App
Messagenius is a full communications platform for enterprise level organizations. It meets all the requirements of a HIPAA compliant messaging platform.
In summary, Messagenius can give your organization:
- Secure text messaging
- Full data encryption at rest and in transit
- On-premises data storage for full control of your information
Messagenius does more than the minimum, though. It is a full communications platform to meet all your needs.
Messagenius is a HIPAA Compliant Messaging App for Doctors, Patients, and Healthcare Facilities
Unlike other platforms, Messagenius has been designed from the ground up for total security.
Messagenius is an Italian software suite launched in 2015. From its beginning, it has been built for compliance with the strictest data requirements. Its systems are fully compliant with all HIPAA requirements.
Messagenius is a Complete Enterprise Solution for Doctor and Patient Communication
Messagenius is designed for enterprise grade organizations. What does that mean? It means that Messagenius scales with your organization.
- If you’re managing 120 staff members across three or four practices, Messagenius will work for you.
- Messagenius will work for you if you’re the IT or Data administrator for a large hospital with several thousand employees.
- If you’re a multi-site healthcare provider with thousands of employees, Messagenius will work for you.
Messagenius works for larger organizations by providing management tools to enable proper user access control, group chat admin, remote wipe of data, black box chats that cannot be erased, broadcast messaging to the entire organization or specific groups, and more.
Administrative Controls Prevent Unauthorized Access and Provide a Full Audit Trail for Review
Administrators can make use of the extra features provided by Messagenius to manage communications efficiently.
Here are some ways admins can do more with Messagenius:
- Access admin control panels for efficient communication with multiple people, groups, or incident chats.
- Send and track high priority messages.
- Follow messages and requests on the map view for resource tracking.
Messagenius is designed to provide all the communication tools your organization needs. It is a fully HIPAA compliant secure messaging platform that can scale to meet your requirements.