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HIPAA Compliance and Healthcare Information

HIPAA Compliance and Healthcare Information

Storing and Communicating Healthcare Information in Compliance with HIPAA

When the Final Omnibus Rule enacted regulations within the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in 2013, it raised issues for healthcare organizations and other covered entities about HIPAA compliance and healthcare information storage and communication.

In a healthcare environment in particular, the increased use of mobile devices in the workplace has driven efficiency and accelerated communications. However the new regulations concerning storing and communicating healthcare information in compliance with HIPAA effectively mean that “traditional” channels of mobile communication – such as email and SMS – are no longer considered secure.

The Significance of the HIPAA Security Rule

Most of the relevant legislation regarding HIPAA compliance and healthcare information is contained within the HIPAA Security Rule. The HIPAA Security Rule includes specific physical, technical and administrative safeguards to prevent healthcare information from being compromised when it is at rest or in transit.

  • The Physical Safeguards call for best practices to be introduced to manage the protection of the physical environment in which computer systems containing healthcare information are stored. The buildings must be protected from fire, other environmental hazards and intrusion – both physical intrusion and online intrusion (hacking).
  • The management of who is able to access healthcare information and how it is transmitted is covered in the Technical Safeguards. These safeguards stipulate the conditions under which communicating healthcare information in compliance with HIPAA is considered to be secure and mechanisms that must be put in place for authorized users to authenticate their identity.
  • Finally the Administrative Safeguards relate to the selection and implementation of a solution to comply with the HIPAA Security Rule, the monitoring of activity on the solution, and the conducting of risk assessments to ensure HIPAA compliance, and that healthcare information is not at risk of being compromised when it is accessed or transmitted by authorized users.

Secure Messaging Solutions Fulfill the Security Rule Safeguards

Secure messaging solutions fulfill the security rule safeguards for HIPAA compliance and healthcare information storage and communication by encrypting patient data in a cloud-based “Software-as-a-Service” platform. System administrators allocate unique usernames and PIN codes to authorized users, who can then access patient data and communicate with other authorized users via a secure messaging app downloaded onto a desktop computer or mobile device.

The secure messaging solution for HIPAA compliance and healthcare information allows authorized users to exchange information, share images and collaborate on patient care within the healthcare organization´s private network. All activity on the network is monitored to ensure secure messaging policies are being adhered to, while safeguards exist to prevent accidental and malicious breaches of patient data, or unauthorized access of protected health information.

These safeguards include “message lifespans” and “app time-outs” so that messages self-destruct after a pre-determined period of time, or the apps time-out after a period of inactivity. Administrators have the ability to PIN-lock the apps in the event that a desktop computer or mobile device is stolen, while audit reports assist administrators in conducting risk assessments and the reporting of Clinical Quality Measures for the Meaningful Use incentive program.

The Benefits of Communicating Healthcare Information in Compliance with HIPAA

Due to the secure messaging apps having a familiar text-like interface that most people will be familiar with, none of the speed and convenience of mobile technology is lost when healthcare organizations implement a secure messaging solution for HIPAA compliance and healthcare information integrity.

Many healthcare organizations have found that the cycle of communication actually accelerates once a secure messaging solution is implemented due to the delivery notifications and read receipts that are present for communicating healthcare information in compliance with HIPAA.

Some of the benefits of communicating healthcare information in compliance with HIPAA include:

  • Accelerate hospital admissions with secure messaging
  • Manage ER hand-offs with secure messaging
  • Escalate patient concerns with secure messaging
  • Reduce patient discharge times with secure messaging
  • Confirm prescription orders with secure messaging
  • Process health insurance claims with secure messaging

When secure messaging solutions are integrated into EHRs or message answering services, these benefits are enhanced. Medical professionals can send and receive healthcare information on the go, save time when they arrive at an accident scene or patient´s home, and collaborate with colleagues on the appropriate treatment to provide to a patient.

HIPAA Compliance and Healthcare Information – A Case Study

Secure messaging solutions not only replace the unsecure “traditional” channels of communication, but also help to streamline workflows, enhance efficiency and increase the standard of healthcare delivered to patients far more than SMS or email ever did. Furthermore it can be cost-effective as well.

One case study we would like to share concerns the Memorial Hospital of Gulfport (MHG). MHG is one of the largest multi-specialty medical complexes in Mississippi, but faced the challenge of HIPAA compliance and healthcare information integrity on a massive scale due to many of its 1,100 staff using pagers to communicate healthcare information.

Once a secure messaging solution was implemented and integrated into its EHR, MHG retired its pager system and introduced a BYOD policy that promoted communicating healthcare information in compliance with HIPAA. In addition to improving real time nurse/physician communication and being able to connect with community nurses at all times, message accountability increased, as did staff collaboration and the level of service delivered to patients.

According to Gene Thomas – MHG´s Vice President and Chief Information Officer – the transition to secure messaging was far easier than he anticipated and he is delighted with the results. He said: “Since deployment, we’ve not only significantly improved our response times and workflow efficiencies, but from a cost savings perspective, we’re saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Although not all healthcare organizations will see financial benefits on the scale experienced by the Memorial Hospital of Gulfport, most will benefit from the implementation of a secure messaging system for HIPAA compliance and healthcare information storage and communication.