In 2020, the healthcare industry embraced remote working at a scale never seen before. Doctors were doing consultations via video apps and patients were encouraged not to go to a hospital or visit a practitioner unless it was an emergency. Yet, doctors and patients still needed to find ways to communicate.
Healthcare messaging requires technical infrastructure. An error in the process can be devastating to a patient and crippling to a business. That’s why you need to use an encrypted messaging app. Text messaging can seem harmless, but it can lead to HIPAA violations.
What Do You Get with an Encrypted Messaging App?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) holds custodians of electronic protected health information (ePHI) accountable if that information falls into the wrong hands. Therefore, your organization needs to have checks and balances to limit unauthorized access to patient files and other Personally Identifiable Information (PII).
Text messages are a simple way to notify patients about upcoming appointments and changes in general policies. As long as no sensitive patient information is exchanged, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) doesn't get involved. However, if the same channel is used to send test results or confirm social security information, you could be exposing yourself to legal action.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the OCR recognized that some HIPAA requirements were not feasible. As a result, they put out a statement offering leniency to health care practitioners using previously unauthorized communication channels. The OCR acknowledged that it was essential to minimize physical contact, but the leniency provided was temporary.
With a secure text messaging app that is HIPAA compliant, you have nothing to worry about, even in a crisis. All information is encrypted while at rest or in transit. Why is that important? What if you send some test results to your client and someone else picks up the phone? If the information is not encrypted, it's easy for anyone to view that information.
WisperMSG, Central Data Storage’s encrypted file sharing solution, ensures that only the intended recipient can view sent information. Furthermore, once the patient receives the encrypted files, they can confirm receipt via the same platform without incurring additional costs.
Not all violations occur out of malice. For instance, in the absence of such a platform, it is tempting for a doctor or an administrator to email patient records to a colleague’s private email so they can work on them remotely. Lots of people do it, but it is a violation.
You need a way to enable your staff to collaborate online without removing files from a safe environment. If something goes wrong, the OCR wants to know that you did everything within reason to secure patient information.
Sometimes you can do everything right, yet a hacker accesses your system and exposes sensitive files. A breach does not equate to a violation.
To protect your practice from penalties, you need to have a comprehensive record of ePHI access. Your system should monitor user permission levels, information accessed, and the time accessed.
When you perform risk assessments, this kind of information will guide you to the weak points in your operation. Most texting apps offer little control over the storage of your data. They don't encrypt the messages on their servers, making that information vulnerable and your organization liable for any breach.
Furthermore, since the message is unencrypted, anyone can view and abuse this information if a user loses their mobile device.
WisperMSG ensures that all files are encrypted, both at rest and in transit. In addition, to maintain our compliance status, we ensure we keep our policies and practices updated. That guarantees that we will treat ePHI with the confidentiality it deserves.
Business Associate Agreements
Failure to enter into a business associate agreement with a service provider such as a cloud storage company also violates the law.
Unfortunately, many practitioners don’t realize how serious this violation is until an incident occurs. For instance, in 2016, the OCR reached a settlement agreement with North Memorial Health Care for $1.5 million for its failure to enter into a business associate agreement with a vendor.
Since the vendor was not HIPAA compliant, its failure caused unauthorized access to over 9,000 client records. It all happened because of a stolen laptop. Even though the laptop was password-protected, the culprits accessed confidential files because they were not encrypted.
HIPAA mandates that patients have the right to access their information upon request. When they make a request, you must comply within 60 days.
Having a HIPAA-compliant texting app accessible remotely with two-factor authentication will save you time and money. An administrator located at your headquarters can deal with such requests quickly and efficiently without incurring travel expenses. All they need is a good internet connection.
Many organizations were scrambling to develop new telephone-related policies to ensure business continuity and quality patient care when the pandemic hit. Our system allows practitioners access to necessary files, such as lab results. This saves time and helps to ensure compliance with the right to access.
It’s difficult for medical professionals to give quality care if they are constantly worried about getting sued. In addition, the digital transformation of healthcare has increased admin work significantly, forcing healthcare professionals to take time to update online records. Eliminating legal uncertainty by using a secure file sharing and communications solution allows health care professionals to focus on their job and be more efficient.
Recently, the OCR turned its attention to violations involving clients who could not access their patient files and imposed hefty files because of it. In 2021, there were over ten enforcement actions for violations of the right to access. The fines ranged from $10,000 to $200,000.
The above shows how a HIPAA violation can have huge financially consequences. However, this scenario is preventable by using a platform that allows remote access to patient files. It will also enable you to send large, encrypted files to those permitted to view them and at no additional cost to your clients.
Central Data Storage’s secure file sharing platform has no limit on messages, meaning your clients can ask as many follow-up questions as they have and engage with you remotely. In this age of phishing, your clients need to know that messages and attachments are safe. CDS provides that assurance.
You Can Never Be Too Careful
HIPAA compliance is an integral part of your practice. The same should apply to your vendors.
In 2021, 61% of information security breaches were linked to external threats. File encryption is vital to stave off these kinds of attacks. Keeping a record of all movements of ePHI is necessary for your risk assessments and instrumental when the regulator comes to investigate an incident.
WisperMSG for secure messaging and file sharing is competitively priced and easy to use. For more information, sign up for a free trial.