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HIPAA Compliance for Call Centers

HIPAA Compliant Texting in Call Centers

HIPAA compliance for call centers is an essential consideration for every company providing an answering service or call-forwarding service for the healthcare industry. Since the Final Omnibus Rule updated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in 2013, all service providers processing, storing or transmitting ePHI directly or on behalf of a healthcare organization are subject to the same Privacy and Security Rules as the healthcare organization itself.

What this means in practice is that healthcare organizations will avoid engaging the services of a call center unless it can be independently verified the call center is communicating ePHI in compliance with HIPAA. HIPAA compliant texting in call centers is not difficult or expensive to implement. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that HIPAA compliance for call centers accelerates the cycle of communication – streamlining workflows and enhancing the level of service provided to patients.

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Healthcare Organizations Implement Secure Texting Solutions

Some of the most relevant changes relating to HIPAA compliance for call centers were within the HIPAA Security Rule. The Security Rule governs subjects such as who should have access to ePHI, how the integrity of ePHI should be maintained while patient data is being transmitted, and what controls should be put in place to prevent an accidental or malicious breach of ePHI.

Many healthcare organizations have implemented secure texting solutions to comply with the requirements of the Security Rule, and these solutions are equally appropriate to ensure HIPAA compliant texting in call centers as an alternative to insecure forms of communication such as SMS, Instant Messaging and email.

By implementing their own secure texting solutions, call centers will be communicating ePHI in compliance with HIPAA with the necessary safeguards in place to control who has access to ePHI, ensure the end-to-end integrity of ePHI and to prevent any breaches of ePHI – either accidental or malicious.

How HIPAA Compliance for Call Centers Works

Secure texting solutions ensure HIPAA compliance for call centers by only allowing authorized users to access the call center´s private communications network. Access to the network is gained via secure messaging apps only with an admin-issued username and PIN code.

Once into the network, authorized users can then communicate with other authorized users, share documents, files and images as attachments, and engage in secure group discussions when a scenario arises that would benefit from collaboration.

Safeguards are in place to prevent ePHI being transmitted outside of the call center´s network, copied and pasted or saved to an external hard drive. All activity on the network is monitored by a cloud-based secure messaging network and, if a potential breach of ePHI is discovered, any communication can be remotely retracted and deleted.

All communications are encrypted to NIST standards so that they are unreadable, undecipherable and unusable in the event that they are intercepted on a public Wi-Fi network; and – should an authorized user lose their mobile device or have it stolen – administrators can PIN lock the device to prevent unauthorized access to ePHI.

Other safeguards to ensure HIPAA compliance for call centers includes “message lifespans” – a feature that removes messages containing ePHI from an authorized user´s computer or mobile device after a pre-determined period of time – and “app time outs”, a safety feature that logs users out of the network after a period of inactivity to prevent unauthorized access to ePHI when a desktop computer or mobile device is left unattended.

The Advantages of Communicating ePHI in Compliance with HIPAA

There are multiple advantages of HIPAA compliance for call centers – not just for the call center communicating ePHI in compliance with HIPAA, but also for the healthcare organization it is providing a service for:

  • HIPAA compliant texting in call centers enables on-call physicians to receive sensitive patient information on the go.
  • Wound images, x-rays and patient histories can also be attached to secure text messages to save the physician´s time on arrival.
  • Delivery notifications and read receipts eliminate the need for follow-up messages and reduce the amount of time lost playing phone tag.
  • Both the call center and the healthcare organization it provides a service for can implement BYOD policies without the risk of an ePHI breach.
  • Physicians and other medical professionals can leverage the speed and convenience of mobile technology to provide a higher level of service to patients.
  • Communicating ePHI in compliance with HIPAA also increases message accountability, as the following case study demonstrates.

With seventeen locations in the Tucson area of Arizona, the call center serving the El Rio Community Health Centers implemented a HIPAA-compliant texting solution to address issues it was having with efficient call support, patient follow-up and message accountability.

As a result of HIPAA compliant texting in call centers, response times improved so that 95 percent of concerns were answered in sixty seconds or less, the concerns were evaluated and resolved more efficiently to provide a higher level of service to patients, and message accountability increased by 22 percent.

By being able to monitor communication metrics, administrators at the Community Health Centers were able to create a streamlined workflow that ensured proper patient follow-up and risk management. According to the organization´s CIO, communicating ePHI in compliance with HIPAA eliminated lost message errors which translated into increased patient satisfaction.

HIPAA Compliance for Call Centers – Conclusion

We mentioned at the beginning of this article that healthcare organizations will avoid engaging the services of a call center unless it can be independently verified the call center is communicating ePHI in compliance with HIPAA. However, that should not be the sole reason for HIPAA compliance for call centers.

HIPAA compliant texting in call centers can lead to the healthcare organizations served by the call center streamlining workflows and enhancing the level of service provided to patients. If a healthcare organization benefits from the service it receives from the call center, the call centers reputation will be enhanced and new opportunities may arise.

We also mentioned at the beginning of this article that HIPAA compliant texting in call centers is not difficult or expensive to implement. This is because the secure messaging apps have a text-like interface that authorized users will already be familiar with and that will require no special training before they can use.

As HIPAA compliance for call centers is provided via a cloud-based “Software-as-a-Service” platform, there is no need to invest in new servers, additional hardware or complicated software programs. Secure texting solutions come “out of the box” and can be implemented with twenty-four hours to fulfill all of a call center´s secure texting requirements.